Heart Attack in Women: Symptoms & Signs

The classic symptoms of heart attack include a feeling of extreme pressure on the chest and chest pain, including a squeezing or full sensation. This can be accompanied by pain in one or both arms, jaw, back, stomach, or neck. Other symptoms of heart attack include shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness, and a sweating feeling, often described as breaking out in a cold sweat. Although chest pain and pressure are the characteristic symptoms, women are somewhat more likely than men to experience heart attack that does not occur in this typical fashion. Instead, some women with heart attacks may experience more of the other symptoms, like lightheadedness, nausea, extreme fatigue, fainting, dizziness, or pressure in the upper back. Because of the absence of typical symptoms associated with heart attacks in men, many women who have heart attacks think the symptoms are due to another condition, like the flu or gastroesophageal reflux.

Causes of heart attack in women

Heart disease, especially coronary artery disease, is the main cause of heart attacks in women and in men. Atherosclerosis is a gradual process in which plaques (deposits) of cholesterol are deposited in the walls of arteries. This is referred to as "hardening of the arteries." Coronary atherosclerosis (or coronary artery disease) refers to the atherosclerosis that causes hardening and narrowing of the coronary arteries. Diseases caused by the reduced blood supply to the heart muscle from coronary atherosclerosis are called coronary heart diseases (CHD) and include heart attack, in which there is not enough oxygen-rich blood delivered to the heart muscle itself. Symptoms of angina occur when there is a lack of blood supply to the heart muscles. These symptoms (chest pain and pressure) at rest infrequently may be due to spasm of a coronary artery (a condition called Prinzmetal's or variant angina).

REFERENCES:

American Heart Association. "Heart Attack Symptoms in Women." Jan. 10, 2017. <http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/WarningSignsofaHeartAttack/
Heart-Attack-Symptoms-in-Women_UCM_436448_Article.jsp>.

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/24/2017

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