Heart attack signs in women

January 10, 2023 | by Ann Davis, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

We’ve seen it on television and movie screens; the camera focuses on a pained look on a man’s face, he grabs his chest dramatically and then falls to the floor. This is what we think a heart attack looks like — and it does sometimes — but it can come on much more subtly, especially for women.

Sure, both men and women can experience a classic presentation of extreme pain or pressure in the chest, sometimes described as the feeling of an elephant on the chest. In fact, chest pain, pressure or tightness is the most common heart attack symptom for both men and women. But there are other ways the body may tell us something is wrong.

Although men and women can have atypical symptoms, women are more likely than men to experience them. Understanding these heart attack warning signs, and reacting to them, can mean the difference between life and death.

Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. suffers a heart attack — the cessation or drastic reduction in the flow of blood that delivers oxygen to the heart. That statistic represents about 790,000 people, 430,000 of whom are women according the American College of Cardiology.

The majority of heart attacks have signs that sometimes mimic other types of illness. If you experience the following, call 911 and get help immediately:

  1. Chest pain or discomfort. May feel like squeezing, fullness, pressure or pain in the center of the chest that lasts longer than a few moments or goes away and then comes back.
  2. Pain or discomfort in other areas of the body. Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  3. Shortness of breath. May accompany chest discomfort, or present on its own.
  4. Other signs. Unexplained sweating, nausea or lightheadedness.

Knowing how to prevent cardiovascular disease that can lead to a heart attack is just as important as recognizing the signs. The steps you should take depend on many factors, but in general, try these healthy lifestyle tips:

  • Eat a diet rich in fruits/vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Incorporate regular cardiovascular activity
  • Manage stress levels
  • Have regular wellness checkups

Consider your physician your prevention partner in creating a wellness plan tailored to your age, lifestyle and family history. At your next visit, ask questions, discuss your concerns and learn the ways in which you can best maintain a healthy lifestyle that reduces your risk for cardiovascular disease and heart attack.

To find out if you’re at risk for heart disease, take an online HeartAware assessment. You can also call 630-527-2800 to schedule a heart scan or make an appointment online.

Heart Attack Symptoms Infographic

Download PDF: (Infographic) Know the Signs of a Heart Attack

Learn more about heart and vascular services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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