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Female Heart Attack Symptoms: What Every Woman Needs to Know

Updated on August 21, 2012
Photo courtesy of qthomasbower on flickr
Photo courtesy of qthomasbower on flickr

Women's Heart Attack Symptoms Are Often Misdiagnosed and Ignored

Female heart attack symptoms can be misdiagnosed and dismissed by the medical profession as the symptoms are often much more subtle and vague than those in men. This is why it is vital that you know what the female heart attack symptoms are and know what to do if you or someone close to you should start to suffer with these symptoms.

What are the common female heart attack symptoms?

The symptoms can be one or a combination of the following

  • Breathlessness

  • Feeling weak

  • Extreme tiredness and fatigue

  • Pressure or discomfort in the lower chest on the left side which eventually spreads to the upper back, shoulders, neck and jaw.

  • Pressure or discomfort in the upper abdominal area that may feel like indigestion or heartburn but which does not disappear after taking an antacid.

  • Heart palpitations

  • Sweating profusely whilst feeling cold and clammy

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Dizziness

  • Back pain

  • Anxiety and irritability

These symptoms can appear out of the blue, even when resting or sleeping.

What is also common in women is that these symptoms can appear to a lesser degree in the period leading up to the heart attack accompanied by disturbed and disrupted sleep patterns. This means that being able to recognize the common female heart attack symptoms and then to take action on them could help prevent you or someone close to you from suffering a severe heart attack.

Heart attacks only happen to over weight business men over 50

This stereotypical image of who suffers from heart attacks could be leading to the unnecessary death of many women because most women don’t consider themselves to be at risk of heart disease. Men are so aware of heart disease that, if they get a tightness across the chest they ring 911 or their wives do it for them. Women call for help at a much later stage possibly because the biggest health worry on a woman’s mind is breast cancer in spite of the fact that heart disease is will account for a much larger number of their deaths.

Photo courtesy of brykmantra on flickr
Photo courtesy of brykmantra on flickr

Risk Factors for Women's Heart Disease

These risk factors can be divided into two groups. Those factors which are within the control of the patient and those which are beyond their control.

Risk Factors beyond their control:

  • Coming from a family with a history of early heart disease
  • Being 55 or older
  • Being female

Risk Factors within their control:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Overweight/obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Diabetes

Photo courtesy of tahitianlime on flickr
Photo courtesy of tahitianlime on flickr

Don't Worry About Wasting Your Doctor's Time

Women also appear to worry about wasting the doctors’ time unnecessarily. They worry about the embarrassment they will feel if they aren’t having a heart attack. The important thing to remember is that any embarrassment will go away. A heart attack can be fatal or cause long term damage to the heart and any delay in getting the appropriate medical care is likely to increase the severity of the long term consequences.

The best course of action if you think you or someone else is suffering a heart attack is to call 911. The emergency medical personnel will be able to start the treatment as soon as they arrive, providing oxygen to assist breathing, pain relief and heart medication. Arriving in the emergency room on a trolley linked up to a cardiac monitor means you are unlikely to be dismissed as just suffering a bad case of indigestion.

Taking a taxi or having someone drive you to the hospital is the next best option and only drive yourself if there is absolutely no other option. When you reach the emergency room just describe your symptoms to the doctor don’t offer your interpretation. If you tell the doctor that you expect you are probably just suffering from a severe case of heartburn caused by whatever you ate for lunch, the doctor may reach this conclusion as well especially if he is under a lot of pressure.

On the other hand if the doctor isn’t even considering the possibility that you may be suffering a heart attack tell him outright “I think I might be having a heart attack”. Don’t be embarrassed – both you and the doctor will be pleased if you aren’t.


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    • Amber Allen profile image

      Amber Allen 5 years ago

      Hi Tracy

      Thank your so much for your lovely comment. It really made my day.


    • Tracy Mason profile image

      Tracy Mason 5 years ago from Ayrshire

      This is an awesome hub and may I say 100% acurate! My symptoms were exactly as you said above. My heart attack happened a couple of days before my 42nd birthday! I had the same pains ( although milder)for a week before I actually had the MI. Well done for making people aware of this as I had no idea before hand. I found your hub as I published mine about my heart attack. Thanks for a very informative hub.

    • Amber Allen profile image

      Amber Allen 7 years ago

      Hello Lita

      I'm very sorry to hear about your health problems. Being a diabetic must be very difficult for you. I'm pleased that you have found my hub on female heart attack symptoms worth bookmarking. Thanks.


    • Lita C. Malicdem profile image

      Lita C. Malicdem 7 years ago from Philippines

      I once had a Transient Ishematic Attack- TIA(as diagnosed by the doctor) last December, 2009. I just felt a tug from where my heart is and spikes crawling my left arm which I simply ignored because I was then in the middle of singing with the church choir. I fell semi-unconscious. I woke up in a nearby hospital.

      I'm diabetic, 64 years old. I bookmark this hub. It's useful information to me and rate this up! Thank you.

    • Amber Allen profile image

      Amber Allen 7 years ago

      Hi katie

      Spreading the word about the female heart attack symptoms is an extremely helpful thing to do. Thanks


    • katiem2 profile image

      katiem2 7 years ago from I'm outta here

      Thank you for making us aware of the female heart attack symptoms. The symptoms of a heart attack for a women are helpful to know and I will pass this along. Peace :)

    • Amber Allen profile image

      Amber Allen 7 years ago

      Hi Art

      As an unfortunate expert on the subject of heart attacks your awesome rating means a lot to me.


    • profile image

      TattoGuy 7 years ago

      Having had a heart attack 2 years ago I found this hub just awesome and have rated it that. Hopefully this hub will save someones life, being aware and getting an ambulance early is the difference between life and death, well written Amber, take a bow young lady ! x

    • Amber Allen profile image

      Amber Allen 7 years ago

      Hi pamela

      Heart attacks and heart disease is the biggest killer of women and denial does play its part in this but I think our disproportionate fear of breast cancer also has a part to play. Thank you for your seal of approval.


    • Amber Allen profile image

      Amber Allen 7 years ago

      Hello BKC

      I'm so pleased that you found this article to be a timely reminder although I'm not pleased to here about your friend. I hope she has good news when she sees the cardiologist.

      I couldn't agree more with your comments. The reason that women are suffering more and more heart disease and heart attacks is due to the increased burden of responsibility that we have to bear. Putting to one side the burden of working, our parents are living longer, our children are leaving home later and the money that we do have is not going anywhere near as far. I've got to go a get a cup of green tea to calm myself down!

      Thanks for popping by.


    • Amber Allen profile image

      Amber Allen 7 years ago

      Hi mega1

      Not having health insurance means that it is very important to look after yourself but it is also important to know when to seek medical help. If you should be suffering from any of the female heart attack symptoms described in my articles please seek medical assistance without delay.


    • Amber Allen profile image

      Amber Allen 7 years ago

      hi drbj

      Thank you for your kind comments.


    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

      Amber, This is a very important hub as women die more often than men with heart attacks and I think denial must be part of the reason. You were very thorough with your information and I think the hub is excellent.

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      This is very timely. I have a friend I am concerned about. She happened to go for a checkup and the doctor immediately made an appointment for her at the cardiologist. I'm sure stress is harming her. She has a job where even in this economy so many people quit because they were being overworked - and so now she is there until 9pm most night - and often weekends. Our jobs are killing us. Good grief.

      Well, on the bright side I gave her some loose green tea - even this pill pushing medical profession has to admit that green tea is a preventative.

      But women are under so much pressure in this culture - I'm not surprised that so many are stressed out. I think we really have to be aware of all that is being put on our shoulders - caring for our elders, being totally responsible for birth control, working for less income, working in the home and outside the home. And my favorite - having to take a vow of abject poverty when we give birth because American women do not receive paid maternity benefits.

      Our mental and physical health has to be our first concern - and without apologies.

      Thanks for this reminder.

    • mega1 profile image

      mega1 7 years ago

      I've been thinking about this alot lately and because I don't have health insurance it bothers me too much. Glad you wrote this so I could see what the symptoms really are. Now for a good heart healthy diet, and I'll be all set.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 7 years ago from south Florida

      Excellent, informative and well-written, Amber Allen, about a subject every woman needs to know.