Heart Attack Symptoms in Women


Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, and afflicts as many women each year as it does men.

However, heart attack symptoms can differ significantly for men and women. Because women are more likely to experience “silent” or vague symptoms, heart attacks are twice as deadly for women than for men.

Chest pain or tightness is among the most common symptoms, and is not exclusive to the left side. While the classic “elephant sitting on the chest” sensation is common, the pain can also be less severe and last only a few minutes, or can disappear and come back.

Women may also experience pain in the arms, back, neck or jaw. This type of pain is more common in women than men, and can often be confusing for women who expect signs of a heart attack to be focused in the chest.

Severe abdominal pressure is often confused with the flu, ulcers or heartburn when it is in fact symptomatic of an oncoming heart attack.

Finally, shortness of breath, fatigue, sweating, nausea or lightheadedness can all appear to be symptoms of other illnesses or stress. While any of these could be indicative of a heart attack, women tend to dismiss them or assume they are symptoms of a milder sickness.

Because the subtlety of heart attack symptoms in women can make heart attacks more difficult to anticipate, women are more likely than men to delay getting help, dismiss their symptoms or drive themselves to the hospital rather than calling an ambulance.

Women who experience one or more of these symptoms, especially when chest pain is included, should call 911.