Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

When her children were toddlers, our staff member, Kim, had an 80-year old baby sitter come to her home to watch them a couple of days a week. Kim admits Anne was older than a typical care giver but she was in excellent health, thin and very active.

“Anne was always on time and never missed a day of work except once when she called to say she was having the worst case of the flu she ever experienced in her life. A few days later she came back to babysit but she never felt completely recovered,” Kim comments.

About a year after the incident Anne traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona to undergo a complete exam to find out why she was still not feeling well. To the shock of the doctors they found she had blockages in 3 coronary arteries. Anne’s case of the bad flu had actually been a symptom of a heart attack. She had bypass surgery and lived another 18 years of a healthy life!

According  to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), chest pain is still the most common heart attack symptom in both women and men. However, much like Anne, the study shows women are more likely than men to also have signs other than chest pain when having a heart attack. In fact, the study research indicates that between 30 and 37 percent of women did not experience chest pain or discomfort (Anne had no chest pain) during a heart attack. In comparison, 17 to 27 percent of men did not experience any chest pain.

Heart Attack Symptoms

Symptoms women are more likely to experience compared to men include:

  • Pain in the middle or upper back, neck, or jaw
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Indigestion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Cough
  • Dizziness
  • Palpitations


Although women may experience some unique symptoms of a heart attack, the study concludes there does not need to be a differentiation of symptoms between men and women. The important message is that everyone should be aware of the common signs of a heart attack which include chest pain or discomfort, in addition to all of the above.

Risk Factors for Heart Disease in Women

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. Almost 300,000 women, about 1 in 4,  died of heart-related disease in 2013. It is a myth that heart disease predominantly affects men. The rate of death is about the same for both genders.

Risk factors for both men and women include: Uncontrolled, unhealthy cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, smoking, being overweight, an unhealthy diet, and a family history of heart disease. In addition, the following are important for women to consider:

  • Diabetes (women with diabetes are at a greater risk for heart disease than men);
  • Being physically inactive (as women age they may be less active than men);
  • Having a history of preeclampsia during pregnancy;
  • Age (after menopause, women are more prone to heart disease because the body’s production of estrogen drops);
  • Broken heart syndrome (some research shows women, more than men, can be prone to heart muscle failure after a particularly stressful situation such as job loss, financial pressure, death of a spouse/partner, or divorce).




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