Do you know the most common signs of a heart attack for women?

Do you know the most common signs of a heart attack for women?

When you think of a heart attack, most people picture a person crouched over grasping their chest or arm.

And while chest pain is the most common sign, many other symptoms are also important to note, especially for women.

Pamela Duffey, an Advoate nurse in the emergency department at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., knows this all too well.

Duffey, a 54-year-old mother of three, has always had a good health history. She’s not a smoker, has never had high blood pressure or cholesterol issues and tries to eat healthy.

But this past June, the Thursday before Father’s Day, she started experiencing jaw pain which traveled to her ears and caused an earache.

The pain subsided, so Duffey didn’t think much of the experience, but later that night, it came back and was so bad she couldn’t sleep.

Having no history, she tried to write off the pain, but when the mild pain persisted Friday, she wanted to make sure her vitals were normal.

“All the vitals were perfect,” she recalls. “Nothing was elevated, so I was reassured that it was something minor. That Saturday, I decided to get some sinus medicine, hoping I might sleep, but Sunday, I just didn’t feel right.”

Thankfully for Duffey, she was scheduled to work that Sunday, Father’s Day. As she walked into Lutheran General Hospital, she immediately knew something was wrong. She had to sit down the minute she hit the lobby.

“I talked to another nurse after I got to work, and Dr. Propp saw me and did an EKG,” says Duffey. “I could tell by the way he looked at me, something was wrong.”

Dr. Douglas Propp, an emergency medicine physician at Lutheran General Hospital, brought in Dr. Parag Patel, an interventional cardiologist who informed Duffey she had a heart attack.

“We took Pamela to our Cardiac Cath Lab where she had an angiogram (a picture of the arteries) which revealed her right coronary artery was 99 percent occluded, so we did an angioplasty plus stenting,” says Dr. Patel. “Had she been at home that day and waited a couple hours longer, she could have died.”

Months later, Duffey is still amazed by the turn of events.

“I think as an Advocate nurse, I’m used to taking care of others and am not as focused on how I feel,” she explains. “I knew in the back of my head jaw pain was a symptom of a heart attack, but I’m healthy and have no history, so at the time, I just couldn’t believe that something serious could be wrong.”

Duffey says if she were to give any advice to other women it would be, “Make sure you are aware of the symptoms of a heart attack. Women’s signs are different than men. Pay attention to your body, and when something feels wrong, get it checked out.”

What are other common symptoms for women?

Dr. Patel says signs to look out for include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Back pain
  • Jaw pain
  • Neck pain
  • Lightheadedness
  • Stomach pain
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Sweating

Concerned about your risk?

Advocate Lutheran General Hospital and other Advocate hospitals offer a heart healthy CT scan which is a safe, non-invasive, painless screening that can help determine your risk for a heart attack. For more information on the healthy heart CT scan, click here.

Find out your risk for heart disease by taking our simple and easy Heart Risk Assessment.

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  1. I just called to schedule the “healthy heart CT scan” that’s promoted at the end of this article, but they don’t have any availability on Saturdays until December 16th!

    • Holly Brenza

      Hi Mary,

      I’m sorry to hear that! Because these scans are in high demand, the spots fill up. Some of our locations do have next-day availability at this time. If you fill out the form towards the top of the page at the link below, you can select another Advocate location to have the scan. Here is the link:

      Or, you can call 1.800.3ADVOCATE back and ask at what site there is next-day availability.

      Thank you for letting us know!

  2. My husband called to make an appointment but they told him he would need a prescription from his doctor. He doesn’t want to make an appointment just for that. Is this true?

About the Author

Jackie Hughes
Jackie Hughes

Jacqueline Hughes is a former manager, media relations at Advocate Aurora Health. Previously, she was the public affairs and marketing manager at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL. She earned her BA in psychology at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Jackie has 10 plus years experience working in television and media and most recently worked at NBC 5 in Chicago. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, going to the movies and spending time with her family.