Feature Archive

Women's Heart Attacks: How They Differ

Learn how women's symptoms can differ. Have a heart-attack attack plan. You can save a life.

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson

If your husband has chest pain, you rush him to the hospital. However, many women would not recognize signs of heart attack in themselves.

Many people are unaware that heart attack symptoms in women can be quite different from men's. In fact, most people don't have a plan of action if faced with possible heart attack. Yet acting quickly is vitally important.

"Getting immediate, appropriate care is the single most important thing you can do to lessen the damage of a heart attack," says Prediman K. Shah, MD, director of cardiology and atherosclerosis research at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in New York City, in a news release.

Dial 911 for an ambulance. "Do not waste time trying to reach your own doctor," says Shah. "Don't drive yourself or someone else to the hospital ... don't call a cab."

Why? "Because within the first few hours after a heart attack, there is a high risk of sudden fatal arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats), and only ambulances with fire department personnel or paramedics are equipped to revive you should your heart suddenly stop beating," says Shah.

"Remember, every minute of delay means more heart muscle is damaged," he says. "When it comes to heart attack, time is muscle."

Symptoms of a Heart Attack -- in Both Men and Women:

  • Squeezing chest pain or pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Tightness in chest
  • Pain spreading to shoulders, neck, arm, or jaw
  • Feeling of heartburn or indigestion with or without nausea and vomiting
  • Sudden dizziness or brief loss of consciousness

Symptoms More Likely in Women:

  • Indigestion or gas-like pain
  • Dizziness or nausea
  • Unexplained weakness or fatigue
  • Discomfort or pain between the shoulder blades
  • Recurring chest discomfort
  • Sense of impending doom

Your Action Plan:

  • Call 911 immediately.
  • Provide one aspirin to chew. Heart attacks are caused by blood clots in heart arteries, and aspirin helps reduce these clots.
  • Give CPR if the patient is not breathing.
  • Get to the hospital quickly. The longer it takes to get treated, the more badly damaged the heart will be.

If you don't know CPR, find a class and sign up. It's easy to learn, and it can save lives after a heart attack.

Originally published Feb. 3, 2004.

Medically updated Feb. 15, 2005.


SOURCE: News release, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

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Last Editorial Review: 2/15/2005 4:05:47 PM