How much do women’s heart attack symptoms differ from men’s?

women's heart attack symptomsCC: Yichuan Zhan at Unsplash

When it comes to heart attack symptoms, many people assume they’re obvious. However, as one ex-nurse recently demonstrated, women’s heart attack symptoms can vary significantly compared to men’s.

The nurse who took the time to highlight the differences via Twitter had recently experienced an attack. She didn’t suffer from the central chest pain we all assume goes hand-in-glove with a coronary event. In fact, most of her symptoms could easily be associated with a muscular injury.

First of all, why are women’s heart attack symptoms different from men’s?

It isn’t so much that women’s heart attack symptoms are different from men’s. In fact, they have the same ones, but they tend to respond to them differently.

Public health campaigns often focus on coronary events in men. This may be because a man’s risk of having one rises earlier in life. While men start to see an increased risk in their 50s, women are at risk from their 70s onward.

One school of thought is that the focus on male heart attacks leads women to question their symptoms more. They may ignore some of the subtler signs, such as a crushing feeling or sudden shortness of breath until they become severe. As a result, they tend to arrive at their local emergency room in a worse state than a man would.

Additionally, women’s heart attack symptoms can begin earlier into the coronary artery occlusion than men’s. Some women may notice feelings such as unexplainable and sudden fatigue a few weeks before the classic symptoms arise.

What symptom’s do both men and women need to look out for?

It’s important not to assume that all heart attacks will produce central crushing chest pain. Other symptoms to look out for include:

  • A feeling of fullness or crushing in the center of the chest. This can come and go.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms. Don’t assume that it must arise in the left arm.
  • Pain or discomfort in the neck and/or jaw.
  • Cold sweats, dizziness, and nausea.
  • Sudden vomiting.
  • Sudden shortness of breath.
  • Upper back pain.

When looking at women’s heart attack symptoms, it’s important to note that many of them won’t occur in isolation. For example, if you suddenly vomit it’s more likely that you have gastroenteritis. But if you suddenly vomit and you’re aware of an increase in fatigue and discomfort in your arms, it’s important to talk to a medical professional.

The type of symptoms either gender experiences will depend on which coronary artery is affected. Additionally, you don’t need to have a history of cardiac disease to have a heart attack. Getting an EKG is quick, cost-effective, and easy. If you suspect the worst is happening, don’t delay seeking help.

About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.