Symptoms of a heart attack in women

Women’s symptoms of a heart attack differ from men’s. Anxiety, fatigue, shortness of breath, and cold sweats are all possible side effects. Symptoms can be confused with the flu or acid reflux.

Acute myocardial infarction is the leading cause of death in women all over the world. It can affect not only older women, but also young women under the age of 55. Although it is stated that heart attack symptoms are less common in women than in men, many scientific sources indicate that chest pain is equally characteristic and common in both sexes. What distinguishes the female sex is that during a heart attack, women are more likely than men to develop atypical symptoms (and there are more of them) as well as prodromal symptoms.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack in women?

The symptoms of a heart attack may resemble those of other heart diseases, such as advanced coronary artery disease  or pre-infarction. Be vigilant if you notice even one of the following ailments:

  • burning or pressure in the so-calledin the well – may resemble heartburn, but does not improve with antacids, there may also be pain in the center of the chest ,
  • sudden muscle pain – may be accompanied by inertia of the hands, pain may be in one or both arms, back, neck or jaw,
  • shortness of breath – breathing is accelerated, shallow and it is not due to intense effort or severe stress (and even if it does, it does not subside under the influence of rest and relaxation),
  • extreme fatigue  – perceived as a sudden general weakness (which can lead to fainting ),
  • other symptoms such as: nausea and even vomiting, dizziness, cold sweats .

The most common symptom of a heart attack, regardless of gender, is chest pain or discomfort. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to report unusual heart attack symptoms such as jaw or back pain, shortness of breath, and nausea. So, they might get the wrong diagnosis or not connect their symptoms to a heart attack. 

Early warning signs of a heart attack in women

Symptoms that occur during a heart attack are one thing, but doctors also look for prodromal symptoms that appear before the disease. Dr. Jean C. McSweeney led a team of scientists from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences who looked into the significance of early warning signs. The following are the main warning signs that appear in women up to a month before the onset of a heart attack:

  • unusual, severe tiredness (the most common symptom)
  • sleep disorders,
  • dyspnoea,
  • chest discomfort.

Chest discomfort was present in almost 30% of women a few weeks before the infarction.

First aid for a heart attack in women

Even doctors have difficulty diagnosing a heart attack quickly. As a result, don’t try to diagnose yourself and don’t underestimate the problem. Call an ambulance if you are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack. If you suspect someone is having a heart attack, you should administer first aid before calling an ambulance:

  • when the patient is conscious, put him in a semi-sitting position,
  • loosen your clothes, open a window to let in some air,
  • when the patient is unconscious, put him in the lateral position,
  • control the patient’s pulse and breathing – if the heart stops working, start cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

In recent years, there has been an increase in cases of acute myocardial ischemia at a young age, which is caused by diseases such as diabetes or obesity, as well as excessive stress. That is why it is important to learn how to recognise a heart attack. The earlier it is diagnosed, the better the prognosis.



4th Professional Medical Student. Karachi Medical and Dental College.

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