Heart Attack Symptoms in Women
If you have any of these signs, call 911 and get to a hospital right away.
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
- As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women may experience other symptoms that are typically less associated with heart attack, such as shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
We’ve all seen the movie scenes where a man gasps, clutches his chest and falls to the ground. In reality, a heart attack victim could easily be a woman, and the scene may not be that dramatic.
Even when the signs are subtle, the consequences can be deadly, especially if the person doesn’t get help right away.
‘I thought I had the flu’
Even though heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States, women often chalk up the symptoms to less life-threatening conditions such as acid reflux, the flu or normal aging.
A heart attack strikes someone about every 40 seconds. It occurs when blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely. This happens because the arteries that supply the heart with blood can slowly narrow from a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances (plaque).
Watch an animation of a heart attack.
Many women think the signs of a heart attack are unmistakable — but they can be subtler and sometimes confusing.
Some women experiencing a heart attack describe upper back pressure that feels like squeezing or a rope being tied around them. Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting are other symptoms.
Take care of yourself
Heart disease can be mostly preventable. So be sure to:
- Schedule an appointment with your health care professional to learn your risk for heart disease.
- Quit smoking. Just one year after you quit, you’ll cut your risk of coronary heart disease by 50%.
- Aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (such as jogging), or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week. It’s also good to include moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity (such as resistance or weight training) at least twice a week.
- Modify your family’s diet if needed. Check out these healthy cooking tips. You’ll learn smart substitutions, healthy snacking ideas and better prep methods.