Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Heart attack information for women

Heart attack information for women

Although women often think of heart attack as something that usually affects men, heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States.1 Every 100 seconds, a woman in the United States has a heart attack.2 Women having a heart attack wait longer before seeking help than men do3 — one reason women tend to do worse after a heart attack than men.

The good news is that if you get help quickly, treatment can save your life and prevent permanent damage to your heart muscle. Treatment works best if given within one hour of when heart attack symptoms begin.


1. Always call 911 if you think you’re having a heart attack, instead of driving to the hospital.

The time it takes to drive to the hospital can be the difference between life and death. Always call 911, and put your life in the hands of trained medical professionals who can start treatment in the ambulance before you even get to the hospital.

What happens after you call for help?

The sections below will discuss what happens after you call 911 to get help for a heart attack. By knowing what to expect, you will be more comfortable seeking help and understand what is being done to help you and why.

When help arrives...

Stay calm and describe your symptoms in a clear, direct manner.

Be specific. Tell them what the pain feels like, where you feel it, how strong it is, and when it started.

Stress that the pain is not normal for you and is "like nothing I've ever felt before."

If you have heart disease or someone in your family has had a heart attack before, say so. This could help them take your symptoms more seriously.

When the ambulance comes, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) will ask you about your health history and any medications you are taking or are allergic to. If you have your medical documents with you, now is the time to hand them over. The job of the EMTs is to get you safely to the hospital so that doctors can identify the cause of your symptoms and start treatment. Getting your story right from the beginning will help make sure you are treated as soon as possible.

In the ambulance...

In the ambulance, EMTs can begin life-saving treatment and make sure you get to the hospital safely. On the way to the hospital, EMTs may:

  • Give you aspirin. if you are not allergic and don't have any other medical reasons not to take it. Aspirin taken early on during a heart attack can reduce the damage and save your life. If you cannot take aspirin, tell them right away.
  • Put a nitroglycerin tablet under your tongue. This will open your arteries and allow more blood to reach the heart. You may feel a burning or tingling sensation in your mouth. This means the pill is working.
  • Take your blood pressure. and listen to your heart using a stethoscope
  • Monitor your heart rhythm. using an electrocardiogram (ECG) with sticky pads that attach to your chest
  • Give you extra oxygen. through a plastic tube with short prongs that go up your nose, or through a clear mask that covers your nose and mouth
  • Place an intravenous (IV) line. into a vein your arm in case you need to be given medication that way
  • Tell the hospital. that a heart attack patient is on the way. This helps emergency room staff to be ready with tests and treatment as soon as you arrive.
  • In some places, EMTs can give clot-busting drugs to stop the heart attack before you even reach the hospital.
  • If your heart stops or develops an abnormal rhythm, the EMTs may use a defibrillator to give a series of shocks that can restart your heart. Flat metal paddles will be placed on your chest to give the shocks.

At the hospital...

When you arrive at the emergency room (ER) in an ambulance, you are already on the fast track to treatment. The ER staff will continue to monitor your vital signs and give you oxygen. Doctors will use your symptoms, your personal and family medical history, and diagnostic tests to see if you have are having a heart attack and choose the best treatment. Learn more about the tests, medications, and procedures you may receive at the hospital.

After you are treated...

After you have been treated, you will be transferred to a Coronary Care Unit (CCU) so you can recover. The CCU is a special part of the hospital for heart patients. You will be monitored 24 hours a day and can be treated right away if you have problems. Most women will stay in the hospital for four to five days after a heart attack. As you recover, more tests may be done to see how well your heart is working and develop a long-term treatment plan.

After you leave the hospital, you should always make an appointment to see your own doctor or cardiologist as soon as possible. The ER doctor is NOT a substitute for your own doctor. Together, you can discuss the things you can do to recover faster and prevent future problems.

1. Always call 911 if you think you're having a heart attack, instead of driving to the hospital.

The time it takes to drive to the hospital can be the difference between life and death. Always call 911, and put your life in the hands of trained medical professionals who can start treatment in the ambulance before you even get to the hospital.

2. Every 30 minutes you wait to get help during a heart attack can take one year off your life!4

Damage to your heart can start as soon as you feel heart attack symptoms. Don't delay. Call 911 right away if your symptoms last longer than 5 minutes.

3. Women may wait longer to go to the hospital.5

Some studies have shown that women with heart attack symptoms wait longer to get help compared to men. The reasons for the delay are complicated, and may be related to women having less common symptoms of a heart attack. Researchers have also found waiting more than an hour to get to the hospital hurts women's health more.

4. Heart attack treatments work best when given as soon as possible after symptoms begin.

The sooner you get treatment for a heart attack, the less permanent damage you'll have to your heart muscle.

5. Not all women who have heart attacks experience chest pain.6

While chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack in both men and women, each woman's symptoms can be slightly different. That's why it's important to know them all.

6. Women are more likely to die after a heart attack.6

In the past, women who had heart attacks waited longer to get help, compared to men. This is still true for women today who are younger than 55 and have heart attacks. Researchers don't know all of the reasons why women often do worse after heart attack, but waiting to get help might be one of them.5

7. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States.

Many different health problems can cause a heart attack, but coronary artery disease (usually called heart disease) is the most common reason someone has a heart attack. Women with heart disease can have other serious health problems too — heart failure, angina or chest pain, stroke, or blood clots.

8. Heart disease can happen at any age.

Heart disease affects younger women too. More than 15,000 American women younger than 55 die of heart disease each year.7

9. Most older women do not know their personal risk of heart disease and heart attack.8

Even women who have many risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or obesity, do not know that they are at higher risk of heart disease. Talk to your doctor about your personal risk of heart disease.

10. The symptoms of a second heart attack can be different from your first heart attack.

Heart attack symptoms may be different each time, even within the same woman. But if you know all of the most common signs of a heart attack, you can call 911 quickly and save a life.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Causes of Death, All races, female, all ages-United States, 2014. Detailed Tables for the National Vital Statistics Report.
  2. Benjamin, E.J., Blaha, M.J., Chiuve, S.E., Cushman, M., Das, S.R. Deo, R., et al. (2017). Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2017 Update: A Report from the American Heart Association. Circulation; 135:e146-e603.
  3. McSweeney, J.C., Rosenfeld, A.G., Abel, W.M., Braun, L.T., Burke, L.E., Daugherty, S.L., et al. (2016). Preventing and Experiencing Ischemic Heart Disease as a Woman: State of the Science. Circulation; 133(13): 1302-1331.
  4. Rawles, J.M. (1997). Quantification of the benefit of earlier thrombolytic therapy: five-year results of the Grampian Region Early Anistreplase Trial (GREAT). Journal of the American College of Cardiology; 30(5): 1181-6.
  5. Bugiardini, R., Ricci, B., Cenko, E., Vasiljevic, Z., Kedev, S., Davidovic, G., … Badimon, L. (2017). Delayed Care and Mortality Among Women and Men With Myocardial Infarction. Journal of the American Heart Association: Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Disease, 6(8), e005968.
  6. Coventry, L. L., Finn, J., Bremner, A. P. (2011). Sex differences in symptom presentation in acute myocardial infarction: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Heart and Lung, 40(6), 477–491.
  7. Lichtman, J.H., Leifheit-Limson, E.C., Watanabe, E., Allen, N.B., Garavalia, B., Garavalia, L.S. et al. (2015). Symptom Recognition and Healthcare Experiences of Young Women with Acute Myocardial Infarction. Circulation: Cardiovascular and Quality Outcomes; 8(2 Suppl 1): S31–S38.
  8. McSweeney, J. C., Rosenfeld, A. G., Abel, W. M., Braun, L. T., Burke, L. E., Daugherty, S. L., … Reckelhoff, J. F. (2016). Preventing and Experiencing Ischemic Heart Disease as a Woman: State of the Science: A Statement for Healthcare Professionals from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 133(13), 1302–1331.