Heart attacks are serious concerns for women. About 50 percent of heart attack deaths are women, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. But the symptoms that a woman may have can be different from "traditional" signs. Knowing the differences can help save a life.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that each year in the United States, about 785,000 people have their first heart attack and 470,000 people have their second or more heart attack. During a heart attack, the heart does not get enough blood due to a blockage. Without an adequate blood supply, the heart does not get enough oxygen, resulting in cell death. Women are at risk for heart attacks, also called a myocardial infarction. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) points out that women make up almost half of heart attack deaths. While women are at risk for a heart attack, the majority are unaware of how great the risk is. In a 2000 study published in the "Archives of Family Medicine," less than a third reported that heart disease was a leading cause of death. Besides being at higher risk, women can also experience different symptoms than men. For example, the MayoClinic.com notes that women are more likely to have heart attack symptoms without the chest pain. Because of the higher risk, women should be aware of the gender differences in the symptoms of a heart attack.
Typical Heart Attack Symptoms
Both women and men should know the typical symptoms of a heart attack. People can have pain during a heart attack, such as stomach pain and upper body pain. Chest pain is one of the hallmark symptoms of a heart attack, which can be mild or severe. MedlinePlus points out that the chest pain lasts longer than 20 minutes. The chest pain feels like bad indigestion, a tight band around the chest, squeezing or like something heavy is on the chest. The NHLBI notes that chest pain is the most common symptoms for both men and women, and they feel this discomfort in the center of their chests. Some patients may experience upper body pain with no chest pain.
During a heart attack, patients may feel lightheaded or have shortness of breath. Some patients may faint. Heart attack patients can have nausea and vomiting. Anxiety can occur, such as a panic attack or a feeling that something bad is going to happen. Other symptoms of a heart attack include sweating, coughing and palpitations.
Symptoms That Women Should Know
Certain symptoms of a heart attack are more likely to occur in female patients. For example, women can feel sick when having a heart attack, with symptoms including lightheadedness, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. That ill feeling may also be accompanied by a cold sweat, which should not feel like ones experienced with menopause. Discomfort is also more common in women. They can have discomfort in the neck, shoulder, upper back, abdomen or jaw. In addition to the abdominal discomfort, women can also have abdominal pain. Unlike men, women having a heart attack can experience unexplained fatigue. Other symptoms of heart attack in women include sweating and shortness of breath.
Women should be aware of these particular symptoms, as it could save their lives. In the "Archives of Family Medicine" study, only 10 percent of the women asked identified fatigue and nausea as heart attack symptoms they could experience. If any of these symptoms occur, call 911 as soon as possible.
- MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Heart Attack, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000195.htm
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: Women and Heart Attack, http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/actintime/haws/women.htm
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Heart Disease Facts, http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
Mosca, Lori et al. "Awareness, Perception and Knowledge of Heart Disease Risk and Prevention Among Women in the United States." Archives of Family Medicine, 2000, http://archfami.ama-assn.org/cgi/reprint/9/6/506.pdf
- MayoClinic.com: Heart Attack Symptoms: Know What's a Medical Emergency, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-attack-symptoms/HB00054