Both men and women can have the "classic" or well-known symptoms of heart attack like cold sweats, crushing chest pains, and a sudden lightheadedness. But some less typical symptoms like pain in the abdomen, neck, jaw, or back, fatigue for hours or days before the attack, shortness of breath, and nausea are said to be more common in women. However, this doesn't mean that you should ignore them if you're a man.
You might already know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States.1 22 But did you know that women have a higher chance of dying if they get a heart attack than men do?2One reason for this is that women often have less well known symptoms of a heart attack and may dismiss these signs as indicating something less threatening.
It’s critically important to recognize the signs of a heart attack because most treatments for clogged arteries – the chief cause of heart attacks – work best within an hour after a heart attack begins. And getting emergency medical attention could mean the difference between life and death. Here are the common heart attack symptoms in men and in women.
Common Heart Attack Symptoms
Some symptoms of heart attack like chest pain are fairly well known. However, it’s important to be on the watch for more subtle signs too. And do keep in mind that if you’ve had a heart attack before, you may not experience the same symptoms the next time.3 Look out for
Sudden Pressure Or Pain In The Left Chest
Discomfort or pain in the left side or center of your chest is the most common symptom of heart attacks. This can feel like uncomfortably heavy pressure, a squeezing sensation, or pain. It could even feel like indigestion or heart burn. This sensation usually lasts for a few minutes or recedes and comes back.4
Cold Sweats Without A Trigger
Breaking out into a “cold sweat” or excessive sweating without any apparent reason like a hot weather or a hot flash is another common sign of a heart attack.5
You may know that people can lose consciousness when they get a heart attack (it’s a familiar sight in the movies), but did you know that suddenly feeling lightheaded or dizzy could be an indication that you’re having a heart attack?6
Common Heart Attack Symptoms In Women
It seems that women do not always present the classic heart attack symptoms. For instance, some women may not feel any chest pain or discomfort at all.7 Here are some of the heart attack symptoms more common in women.
Fatigue Before An Attack
A lack of energy or feeling unusually tired is a common sign of a heart attack in women – more than 50% of women who have heart attacks experience weakness or muscle tiredness which can’t be accounted for by exercise. This symptom may come on suddenly or it can also be present for days before an attack.8
Upper Body Pain
A heart attack can cause discomfort, or pain in your back, neck, upper abdomen (above the belly button), jaw, or either one of your arms or both of them. Here’s what you need to look out for:
- Tightness or ache around or in your lower jaw
- Discomfort in your neck
- A burning or choking sensation in your throat
- Heaviness, pressure, or an ache around both or one of your shoulders
- A dull ache between the shoulder blades
- Numbness, tingling, heaviness, or pain in one or both your arms
But do keep in mind that while pain in the jaw, neck, stomach, or back are more common indicators for women, pain in these areas can be common warning signs for men too.9 10 11
Shortness Of Breath
You may experience shortness of breath either before or around the same time that you experience chest pain. It could even be the only symptom you experience. So you may suddenly find that you’re struggling to breathe though you’ve haven’t engaged in any physical activity that can account for this when you have a heart attack. Again, do keep in mind that men too commonly experience shortness of breath as a symptom.12
Nausea Or Vomiting
Women are two times more likely to experience indigestion, nausea, or vomiting during a heart attack when compared to men.13Unfortunately, they are also prone to dismissing this as a mere digestive upset.
If you experience any of these symptoms, get help immediately.
What Can You Do To Lower Your Risk?
Factors like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol levels are known to increase your risk for heart disease and controlling these is very important. Other factors like stress and depression are also associated with heart disease and need to be addressed.14 15Here’s how you can manage your risk:
Have A Healthy Diet
A balanced diet plays an important role in keeping your heart healthy. Your diet should be rich in fruit and vegetables, lean meat, whole grains, fish, and pulses and you should limit your intake of sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats.16
Exercise can lower bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol, help to control your blood sugar, and reduce blood pressure. Getting in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (for instance, walking briskly or doing yard work) every day can help your heart.17
Do Not Use Tobacco Products
Tobacco in all its forms can harm your health. Being exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke can be dangerous too. But the good news is that your risk of a heart attack starts dropping as soon as you stop using tobacco products and can reduce by about 50% in a year.18
Try Breathing Exercises
A yogic breathing technique known as Sudarshan Kriya Yoga which involves rhythmic, cyclical breathing with slow, medium, and fast cycles can help you deal with stress as well as depression.
During the slow breath cycle which is known as Ujjayi or “Victorious Breath,” 2 to 4 breaths are taken per minute, while during the rapid breath cycle which is known as Bhastrika or “Bellows Breath,” air is inhaled and forcefully exhaled at about 30 breaths per minute. A trained practitioner will be able to coach you in the technique.19
According to research, meditation can be helpful for people who are dealing with depression and anxiety, which raise the risk for depression.20Sit comfortably, focus on your breathing, and keep your attention on the present moment without letting your mind drift into the past or future. Try to meditate for at least 20 minutes a day and do remember that regular practice can help you maximize your benefits.21