4 Heart Attack Symptoms for Men and Women

Heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women in the U.S. Heart attack is one possible result of heart disease.

If you have a heart attack, the good news is: If you're able to quickly identify the symptoms and call 9-1-1 immediately, you have a greater chance of survival and limiting damage to your heart.

Despite what many of us are led to believe by movies and TV shows, a heart attack doesn’t always cause dramatic chest pain. In fact, most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort, says the American Heart Association (AHA).

That’s why it’s important to understand heart attack symptoms and be prepared to take action fast. Never wait more than five minutes to call 9-1-1 in an emergency situation – don’t drive yourself or have someone take you to the emergency room.

Understanding Heart Attacks

Heart attacks often result from coronary heart disease, a condition where plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Plaque buildup can create a tiny clot that cuts off blood flow to the heart. (Read 9 risk factors for heart disease that you can control.)

The heart needs a continuous supply of blood and oxygen to function properly. Coronary arteries, which surround the heart, are responsible for bringing blood to the heart.

When one or more coronary arteries become blocked preventing blood and oxygen from reaching part of the heart, a heart attack occurs. If blood flow isn’t restored quickly, the part of the heart that’s not getting blood can become damaged.

Heart Attack Symptoms

Not everyone experiences the same symptoms of a heart attack. Some people have severe signs, while others have milder ones. And some people don’t have any at all.

According to the AHA, here are signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:

  1. Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
  2. Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. This can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  3. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  4. Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.

The AHA says that like men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain. More information about heart attack symptoms in women is available here.

A Message for Women

If you’re a woman, or if you have women in your life, make sure you understand the symptoms of a heart attack and get help fast in an emergency. Here’s why:

  • Even with national campaigns like National Wear Red Day, most women don’t realize they’re far more likely to die from heart disease or stroke than breast or lung cancer.
  • Most women don’t know that shortness of breath and fatigue can be symptoms of a heart attack.
  • Seventy-one percent of women have sudden onset of weakness that feels like the flu before a heart attack – often without chest pain.
  • Women are more likely to delay getting treatment, and doctors may be slower to recognize heart attacks in women.

If you’re interested in more information about heart attacks, visit the AHA’s website here.

Meet the Author

Muhammad F. Jan, MD is a Cardiologist  at Aurora Medical Center Grafton in Grafton, Wisconsin.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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