Heart attack symptoms

Many people think the warning signs of a heart attack are sudden, like a movie heart attack, where someone clutches his chest and falls over. A real heart attack may look and feel very different for women. Women are more likely to have nontraditional symptoms of heart attack than men. And women are also more likely to have silent heart attacks.

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How do I know if I'm having a heart attack?

For both women and men, the most common heart attack symptom is pain or discomfort in the center of the chest. The pain or discomfort can be mild or strong. It can last more than a few minutes, or it can go away and come back.

The more heart attack symptoms that you have, the more likely it is that you are having a heart attack.1 Also, if you've already had a heart attack, your symptoms may not be the same for another one. Even if you are not totally sure you are having a heart attack, call 911 right away.

What heart attack symptoms are more common in women?

Women are more likely than men to have a different symptom of heart attack than chest pain or discomfort. These symptoms include:

  • Pain in the back, neck, jaw, or throat
  • Indigestion
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea (feeling sick to the stomach)
  • Vomiting
  • Extreme fatigue (tiredness)
  • Problems breathing (shortness of breath)

Women are more likely than men to have heart attacks that do not show obvious symptoms. These are called silent heart attacks. All women should know and talk about their risk factors for heart attack with their doctor or nurse.

What should I do if I have heart attack symptoms?

If you think you, or someone else, may be having a heart attack, call 911 right away. Do not drive yourself to the hospital, and do not let a friend drive you. You may need medical help on the way to the hospital. Ambulance workers are trained to treat you on the way to the emergency room.

Getting to the hospital quickly is important. Treatments for opening clogged arteries work best within the first hour after a heart attack starts.

If you think you're having a heart attack, get emergency help right away. Don't let anyone tell you that you are overreacting or to wait and see. Get tips on how best to describe your symptoms and how to ask for tests that can show whether you're having a heart attack.

What is a silent heart attack?

A silent heart attack is a heart attack that does not cause obvious symptoms. Your doctor may discover a silent heart attack days, weeks, or months later on an electrocardiogram test used to diagnose a heart problem.

Silent heart attack:

  • Is more common in women than in men
  • Can happen to women younger than 65. Younger women who have silent heart attacks without chest pain are more likely to die compared to younger men who have silent heart attacks without chest pain.2
  • Is more likely to happen in women with diabetes. Diabetes can change how you sense pain, making you less likely to notice heart attack symptoms.3

Did we answer your question about heart attack symptoms?

For more information about heart attack symptoms, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

Sources

  1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2015). What Are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack?
  2. Canto, J.G., Rogers, W.J., Goldberg, R.J., Peterson, E.D., Wenger, N.K., Vaccarino, V., et al. (2012). Association of Age and Sex With Myocardial Infarction Symptom Presentation and In-Hospital Mortality. Journal of the American Medical Association, 307(8): 813-822.
  3. Schelbert, E.B., Cao, J.J., Sigurdsson, S., Aspelund, T., Kellman, P., Aletras, A.H., … Arai, A.E. (2012). Prevalence and prognosis of unrecognized myocardial infarction determined by cardiac magnetic resonance in older adults. Journal of the American Medical Association, 308(9): 890–896.