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Are You Heart Smart? Heart Attacks Different in Women Than in Men

By HERWriter
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Are You Heart Smart? Heart Attacks in Women Different Than in Men gstockstudio/Fotolia

If you had to list the common symptoms of a heart attack, you’d probably say chest pain and pain in the left arm. But if you are a woman, there are other, equally important warning signs you need to be aware of.

Heart attacks have received a lot of media attention. The problem for women is that most of the information provided is focused on the common symptoms and treatments for men. Heart attacks in women can present very differently from men, and may be more deadly than in men.

According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer of women. One in three deaths among women are caused by heart disease each year. That adds up to approximately one woman dying of heart disease every minute.

Women also tend to have a harder time recovering from a heart attack, and often have to stay longer in the hospital. They generally experience more complications than men.

Women may also be at greater risk of actually having a heart attack because health care professionals are less likely to warn women about risk factors, including high cholesterol or diabetes.

One study showed that in the United States and Spain between 2008 and 2012, women were 11 percent less likely to be warned about significant risk factors.

Another study showed that women are less likely to receive angioplasty or stents — two common treatments used when an artery supplying blood to heart tissue is blocked.

Because the signs of heart disease can be different in women than in men, it is critical for women to know what warning signs to watch for in themselves, and to be aggressive in reporting symptoms to their health care providers.

Be aware of these less-recognized symptoms of heart attack in women from the American Heart Association:

Shortness of breath

This can occur a few weeks prior to an actual heart attack. Be aware if you suddenly find that you can’t breathe while performing a common activity or exercise.

Back or jaw pain

Pain in the chest or left arm may be known as the common indicators of a heart attack, but women may experience unexplained pain in the upper or lower back that is a sign that your heart is stressed. Pain in the jaw or neck can also be a warning signal from your heart.


Upset stomach, vomiting and other flu-like symptoms may appear in the days or weeks prior to a heart attack.

No symptoms at all

Some heart attacks are known as silent heart attacks because they don’t come with any of the standard symptoms. This type of heart attack may be more common in women than in men. In many cases, silent heart attacks increase the risk of other heart-related complications.

If you suspect that you are having a heart attack, trust your instincts no matter what your symptoms may be. Dial 911 and get to the ER right away.

If possible, take someone with you to advocate for you. Be sure it is very clear to the emergency team that you believe you are having a heart attack.

General risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, age, smoking and a family history of heart disease. If you have questions about your risk factors for heart disease, talk to your health care provider.

Reviewed February 26, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Washington Post. Heart attacks in women can be different – and more deadly – than in men. Brady Dennis. Web. February 24, 2016. 

American Heart Association. Facts About Heart Disease in Women. Web. February 24, 2016. 

American Heart Association. Hard-to-Recognize Heart Attack Symptoms. Web. February 24, 2016. 

Washington Post. There’s a gender gap in heart attack care and it’s bad for women. Lena H. Sun. Web. February 24, 2016.  

American Heart Association. Silent Heart Attack: Symptoms, Risks. Web. February 24, 2016. 

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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