Heart attack symptoms for women and men

Heart attack symptoms for women and men

Heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women in the U.S. Heart attack is one possible result of heart disease.

If you have a heart attack, the good news is that you have a greater chance of survival and limiting damage to your heart if you quickly identify the symptoms and call 9-1-1 immediately.

Despite what many of us are led to believe by movies and TV shows, a heart attack doesn’t always cause dramatic chest pain. In fact, most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

That’s why it’s important to understand heart attack symptoms and be prepared to take action fast. Never wait more than five minutes to call 9-1-1 in an emergency situation. Don’t drive yourself – have someone take you to the emergency room.

Understanding heart attacks

Heart attacks often result from coronary heart disease, a condition where plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Plaque buildup can create a tiny clot that cuts off blood flow to the heart.

The heart needs a continuous supply of blood and oxygen to function properly. Coronary arteries, which surround the heart, are responsible for bringing blood to the heart.

When one or more coronary arteries become blocked, preventing blood and oxygen from reaching part of the heart, a heart attack occurs. If blood flow isn’t restored quickly, the part of the heart that’s not getting blood can become damaged.

Heart attack symptoms

Not everyone experiences the same symptoms of a heart attack. Some people have severe signs, while others have milder ones. And some people don’t have any at all.

According to the AHA, here are signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:

  1. Chest discomfort: Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  2. Discomfort in other areas of the upper body: This can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  3. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  4. Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

The AHA says that like men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

A message for women

If you’re a woman, or if you have women in your life, make sure you understand the symptoms of a heart attack and get help fast in an emergency. Here’s why:

  • Many women don’t realize they’re far more likely to die from heart disease or stroke than breast or lung cancer.
  • Women are “somewhat more likely than men” to have other symptoms, like shortness of breath, jaw pain or nausea, according to the AHA.
  • Women are more likely to delay getting treatment, and doctors may be slower to recognize heart attacks in women, the AHA says.

Learn the early signs of a heart attack and help save a life. Find out if you’re at risk for the most common form of heart disease. Our $49 heart scan is simple, noninvasive and can reveal life-changing information. Schedule a heart scan today at Aurora Health Care or Advocate Health Care.

Dr. Muhammad F. Jan is a cardiologist  at Aurora Medical Center Grafton in Grafton, Wis.

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One Comment

  1. The cautionary symptoms mentioned in this wonderful article perfectly mirrored my own cardiac event last year. One’s pre-established expectations are at times in diametric conflict with the acuity manifesting. There can indeed be “subtleties” to an MI that inveigh upon those all important time factors, so casually dismissible. Two things played out favorably in my case. The first was a willingness to forgo embarrassment should my reactions not prove a heart attack was happening. The other is less empirical yet immensely important. I would urge individuals so affected to trust their intuitions and seize action regardless of symptomatic severity. We are fully designed to rationalize away almost any anomaly until escalation of discomfort proves otherwise, almost insuring heart damage. Intuition begins long before arteries occlude, I believe. I would offer that intuitive awareness parallels body awareness/listening. I mean here: begin daily meditation in earnest. There are more than 25 various meditative disciplines to choose from. We simply will be unprepared to listen to our own bodies’ whisperings unless we are already learning the language, so to speak. Meditation similarly bodes well for heart disease pre-cursors (e.g. stress, hypertension) and is prominent in post-event rehabilitation. My cardiac episode has truly made me a better person in all matters wholistic. One other thing, having timely access to a competent team of professionals such as can be found at AAH facilities, makes continued life a likelihood. The author of this article, Dr. Jan (with his mentor, Dr. Allaqaband and team) saved my life.

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About the Author

Dr. Muhammad Jan
Dr. Muhammad Jan

Muhammad F. Jan, MD is a Cardiologist at Aurora Medical Center Grafton in Grafton, Wisconsin.