Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

You might be able to guess that the most common heart attack symptom is chest pain, but it's important to recognize other possible symptoms as well, says Dr. Garrett Sanford, a cardiologist at Washington Regional Cardiovascular Clinic, part of the Washington Regional Walker Heart Institute. "Not recognizing the symptoms of a heart attack can lead to a delay in medical treatment," he says.

Heart attack symptoms can include:

  • Chest discomfort described as a heaviness in the chest or a constrict ion like a rubber band around the chest. Women may feel as if their bra is too tight.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Other unusual signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness

Women can have the same heart attack symptoms that men do, Dr. Sanford says, but women may also experience some different s symptoms, such as fatigue or sleep disturbances.

And while we tend to think that men are at greater risk of developing heart disease, that's not necessarily the case, Dr. Sanford says. "It just occurs earlier in men than it does in women. In men it usually occurs in their 50s and 60s, while in women it usually occurs in their 60s and 70s.

“Heart disease remains the number one killer of women," he says. "One in three women will die from heart disease."

A family history of heart disease increases your risk of developing it, Dr. Sanford adds, but you can still take steps to lower your risk. "While we can't control our genetics, there are other things that we can control, such as not smoking, monitoring our blood sugar, managing or avoiding diabetes," he says. "It's important to know your numbers – such as what your blood pressure is – and to have your lipids, or cholesterol levels, checked at least annually by your primary care provider."

People with a strong family history of heart disease, Dr. Sanford says, may benefit from additional testing and monitoring.