Woman holding her heart in pain

7 Easily Missed Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

Heart disease is the biggest killer in the United States, and it's important to know that men and women experience heart attack symptoms differently. Most of the symptoms we’re familiar with are signs that men experience during a heart attack.

While chest pain is still a common sign for women, other symptoms can be entirely different. Here are the symptoms women may experience during a heart attack.

1. Pain, Squeezing, Pressure, or Fullness in the Upper Body or Chest

Pain during a heart attack is much more common in women compared to men. Not surprisingly, a heart attack may cause pain or pressure just below the bra cups, but other common places women may feel pain are in the neck, jaw, back, shoulders, and one or both arms. The nerves in these regions link to the heart. The sensation can range from slight discomfort to extreme pain depending on the severity of the heart attack. In most cases, the pain stays for several minutes then occurs intermittently throughout the day.

2. Fatigue and Weakness

These days a lot of women feel exhausted in their everyday lives. Fatigue is common, and it may be difficult to spot when you’re just tired versus having a heart attack. Along with fatigue, you can experience weakness as your heart fails to pump blood normally. Without good blood flow, you grow weak and fatigued.

3. Nausea, Vomiting, and Indigestion

The nerves of the stomach and heart are linked, so when your heart is malfunctioning, you can feel nauseated or like you have indigestion. This connection is why acid reflux can cause pain around your heart, prompting the term “heartburn.”

4. Shortness of Breath

We all get short of breath when we exercise, but if you feel winded while sitting or relaxing, then you need to go to the hospital. A heart attack decreases blood flow throughout your body and reduces the amount of oxygen your body receives.

5. Feelings of Anxiety

It’s easy to mistake a rapid heartbeat or cold sweats with daily stress. However, anxiety is the first sign of a heart attack in women. If you feel these sensations when you ought to be calm, your nerves may be reacting to your heart working overtime. 

6. Increase in Blood Pressure

Because some women feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety and shortness of breath during a heart attack, their blood pressure spikes in the lungs and heart. It's not unusual for this spike to happen as your heart overexerts itself.

7. Lightheadedness

Sometimes, blood pressure can dramatically drop during a heart attack. This symptom can cause you to feel lightheaded or dizzy. This feeling is also much more likely to occur in women compared to men and is usually accompanied by weakness. Occasionally, this lightheadedness can also cause a sudden and brief loss of consciousness.

Things to Remember

Many young women believe that because of their age they cannot have a heart attack. This statement is entirely false. All women can have heart attacks, regardless of age. Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States for both men and women, and the damage can start early.

While heart disease is more prevalent in women after they’ve experienced menopause, nearly 16,000 women under the age of 55 die every year from heart attacks. If that number is stunning, you should know that women under the age of 55 also account for 40,000 hospitalizations per year due to heart disease.

If you think you're having a heart attack, seek treatment right away. By seeking medical assistance immediately, you decrease the amount of damage to your heart during a heart attack. Call 911 at the first sign of a possible heart attack.

Last Updated: April 18, 2018