Heart attacks are more likely to happen to men at an earlier age than they do in women. Most men who have first heart attacks are more likely to have them by age sixty-five. First heart attacks in women generally occur at age seventy-two.
Well-known heart attack symptoms include pain or pressure in the chest, pain in one arm or another area of the upper body and shortness of breath. Jaw or stomach pain can also signal a pending heart attack. While those symptoms are not uncommon in men and women, there are symptoms that are more likely to occur in women. They are sometimes overlooked or explained away as the result of another issue. However, they are important to know and could be life-saving if detected early.
Differences in common symptoms
Women may experience some heart attack symptoms differently than men. Chest pain is the most common symptom of heart attacks in both men and women. However, for women, it can occur in more areas of the chest. For men, chest pain is more common on the left side but for women, it is more likely to occur on either side. It may also feel differently than the same symptom for men. Instead of an outright pain, it may feel like a slow tightening, as if the chest is being squeezed.
Pain in the arm is experienced by both sexes during a heart attack. For men, it usually occurs in the left arm but for women, it is as likely to appear in either arm. Pain that starts in the jaw or back and spreads to other areas for no apparent reason can be considered heart attack symptoms. It may occur more suddenly in women.
While stomach pain can signal heart attacks in both sexes, it leads to nausea and vomiting more frequently in women. Because they also occur in other illnesses, they are often thought to be flu symptoms or another stomach issue. Nausea may be attributed to a stomach ulcer or heartburn, in addition to the flu, instead of a heart attack. The analogy of pressure so severe that it feels like an elephant sitting on someone’s chest can be expanded to the stomach for women. Severe stomach pain or pressure is more likely to occur in women when they experience a heart attack than in men.
Symptoms more likely in women only
For women, shortness of breath may signal a heart attack. This can come with or without chest pain and often with no strenuous physical activity happening at the same time. It is not unusual to experience shortness of breath as the result of activity, such as running or another exercise, but if it lingers, it could be a heart attack symptom. Shortness of breath while a woman is lying down could also raise a red flag. If it improves when she props up, that goes hand in hand with the probability of it being a heart attack symptom.
In addition to shortness of breath for no apparent reason, women having a heart attack may also perspire while at rest. This can be usual perspiration or a cold sweat that occurs without any physical exertion or stress. It also can occur with chest pain. Shortness of breath and unusual sweating may wake women up at night, if a heart attack is likely.
Other similar symptoms more often seen in women include dizziness, lightheadedness or unexplained fatigue. These may seem like minor conditions unrelated to cardiovascular stress and are often ignored.
What to do and when
Sometimes women experience these symptoms for a prolonged period before a heart attack happens. If they continually arise, it is wise to consult a physician or cardiologist. If it is obvious that a heart attack is happening, call 911 for an ambulance. Relying on a friend to drive a heart attack victim to a hospital may take longer and every second counts.
To learn more about heart attack symptoms that may occur for women, log on to vascularhealthclinics.org.