Like men, women will usually feel pressure or tightness in the chest when having a heart attack. But women also often experience other symptoms, namely heart attack symptoms that are not well recognized, and in fact are more likely to die of a heart attack than men, due to an incorrect diagnosis or delayed treatment. Because of this, it's important to know what symptoms to look out for if you're a woman. If you think you are having a heart attack, call the emergency number 119 for immediate help.
Method 1 of 2: Identifying Symptoms
Step 1. Watch for chest or back discomfort
One of the main symptoms of a heart attack is a sensation of heaviness, tightness, pinching, or pressure in the chest or upper back. This pain does not appear suddenly or severe. This can last a few minutes, then disappears and reappears.
Some people mistake a heart attack for heartburn or indigestion. If the pain doesn't appear immediately after eating, if you don't usually have heartburn, or if the pain is accompanied by nausea (a feeling like throwing up), you need to go to the emergency department
Step 2. Identify upper body discomfort
Women who have had a heart attack may experience sharp, toothache-like pain or earache, occurring in the jaw, neck, shoulders, or back. This pain arises because the nerves that supply these parts also supply the heart. This pain can come and go for a while before finally getting worse. It can also get worse so that you wake up in the middle of the night.
- This pain may be felt in all parts at once, or only in some of the locations listed above.
- Women often don't feel the pain in the arm or shoulder that men often feel when having a heart attack.
Step 3. Look for symptoms of dizziness and/or loss of balance
If you suddenly feel faint, your heart may not be getting the blood it needs. If difficulty breathing or cold sweat accompanies dizziness (feeling as if the room is spinning) or loss of balance (feeling like you might pass out), you may be having a heart attack. Reduced blood flow to the brain causes these symptoms.
Step 4. Watch for shortness of breath
If you suddenly find it difficult to breathe, this could be a sign of a heart attack. Finding it difficult to breathe means feeling as if you can't breathe. If you're short of breath, try to breathe with your lips pursed (as if you're whistling). You use less energy when you breathe this way. This way of breathing can also help you feel more relaxed and reduce the feeling of "out of breath".
If you have a heart attack, the blood pressure in the lungs and heart increases while the pumping function of the heart decreases
Step 5. Watch for gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, indigestion, and vomiting
Gastrointestinal symptoms are symptoms of a heart attack that are more common in women than men. These symptoms are often overlooked by women as a result of stress or the flu. This is a result of poor circulation and lack of oxygen in the blood. Feelings of nausea and indigestion last for a moment.
Step 6. Consider whether you have trouble breathing when you wake up
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissues of the mouth, such as the tongue and throat, block the upper airway.
- A diagnosis of sleep apnea means that you stop breathing for at least 10 seconds repeatedly during sleep. This disturbance in the breathing process reduces blood flow from the heart.
- Yale University research shows that sleep apnea increases the risk of death or heart attack by about 30 percent (over a five-year period). If you wake up and can't breathe, you may have a heart attack.
Step 7. Think about whether you feel anxious
Sweating, shortness of breath, and a fast heartbeat (palpitations) often accompany anxiety. These symptoms are also common with a heart attack. If you suddenly feel anxious (restless), it's possible that your nerves are reacting with an overworked heart. Anxiety can also cause insomnia for some women.
Step 8. Look for signs of lethargy and fatigue
While fatigue is a common symptom in many conditions, including being busy at work, it can also be caused by decreased blood flow to the brain. If you're having trouble completing daily tasks because you need to stop and rest (more than usual), your blood may not be able to pump around your body at normal levels and could indicate you're at risk for a heart attack. Some women also report a feeling of heaviness in the legs in the weeks or months that triggers a heart attack.
Method 2 of 2: Understand the Importance of Identifying Symptoms
Step 1. Recognize that women are more likely to die of a heart attack
Women who have had a heart attack are more likely to die as a result of late treatment or a misdiagnosis. If you think you're having a heart attack, make sure you tell them when you call the emergency number 119. This will help ensure your doctor considers the possibility of a heart attack, even if the symptoms don't match those of a heart attack.
Do not delay treatment if you think you have a heart attack or have heart problems
Step 2. Recognize the difference between a heart attack and a panic attack
Panic attacks arise due to stressful situations. What exactly causes a person to develop panic disorder is not known; however the condition tends to run in families. Women and people in their 20s or 30s are at higher risk for panic attacks. The symptoms that are common during a panic attack, but not uncommon during a heart attack are:
- Strong terror
- Sweaty palms
- Red face
- Muscle spasm
- The feeling of wanting to run away
- Fear of "going crazy"
- Warm feeling on the body
- Difficulty swallowing or tightness in the throat
- These symptoms may resolve within 5 minutes or escalate after 20 minutes.
Step 3. Seek medical help if you have symptoms of a panic attack, but have previously had a heart attack
If anyone who has had a heart attack has any of the symptoms listed above, they should go to the emergency department. A person who has been diagnosed with panic disorder and is concerned about having a heart attack should request an evaluation of the heart condition.