How are the signs of a heart attack different in women than in men?
The most common symptoms of a heart attack are actually the same in men and women. They include:
- Chest pressure or tightness
- A squeezing or aching sensation in the chest that may spread to the arm, neck, jaw, or back
- Nausea or heartburn-like symptoms
- Shortness of breath, cold sweats, light headedness, and sudden dizziness.
That said, it’s true that some women do not experience the typical symptoms of chest pressure or tightness spreading to the arm, neck, jaw or back. They may have only cold sweats, nausea, or light headedness. Sometimes women have only upper-belly pain, shortness of breath, or neck and arm pain.
Symptoms may be more subtle than women anticipate and they may be tempted to attribute them to things that are less scary—such as acid reflux or indigestion. However, if you’re worried that you might be experiencing a heart attack it’s better to call 9-1-1 and get help. The sooner help arrives the better your chance of a complete recovery.
It’s particularly important for women over 50 to take their heart health seriously. Up until menopause, the hormone estrogen has a protective effect on the heart. Once estrogen levels drop a women’s risk of a heart attack increases.
Exercising, eating well, and avoiding smoking are key to reducing the risk of a heart attack.
—Dipesh Pokharel, MD
Dr. Dipesh Pokharel is a cardiologist at Vancouver Clinic. He is board certified in nuclear cardiology and echocardiography. Dr. Pokharel is dedicated to helping patients prevent, manage, and understand cardiovascular diseases.