Heart attack symptoms in women

Key points about heart attack in women

  • Cardiovascular disease (heart and blood vessel disease) is the most common cause of death for women.
  • Women often miss the symptoms of a heart attack because they don’t think it could happen to them.
  • While they may have chest pain, they may not. Other symptoms include lower chest or abdominal pain or pressure, nausea/vomiting, shortness of breath, fainting, indigestion and fatigue.
  • Heart attacks can cause cardiac arrest and sudden death. Know your risk factors and try to live a heart health life.
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Video: Go Red For Women ™ presents: 'Just a Little Heart Attack'

Watch this amusing yet sobering video of actress Elizabeth Banks portraying a woman having a heart attack, or read on for more information below. This video may take a few moments to load.

Video: Go Red for Women. Note: In Aotearoa New Zealand in an emergency, call 111 for an ambulance.

Heart attack symptoms in women can be a bit different from those in men. Women tend to ignore the symptoms because they can be quite subtle.

While chest pain is the most common sign of heart attack for both men and women, some women just have a feeling of tightness, pressure or discomfort in their chest. So, if you’re a woman, how do you know if you are having a heart attack?

Image: Go Red for Women(external link)

You may have some or all of these symptoms, including symptoms with or without chest discomfort.

1. Pain/tightness in chest

A common symptom is a feeling of tightness, pressure or discomfort in your chest. Chest discomfort is caused by blockages within your main heart arteries. Women also tend to have blockages in the small arteries coming off your heart (known as microvascular coronary disease). For this reason, chest discomfort may not be the worst, or most noticeable, symptom in women. 

2. Shortness of breath

You may feel like you can’t breathe properly or you can’t get enough air into your lungs. Some women may even experience difficulty breathing a few weeks before having a heart attack.  

3. Nausea/vomiting or sweating

You may feel really queasy or actually vomit. You may also feel sweaty and clammy.

4. Lightheadedness/dizziness

You may feel light-headed, dizzy or not quite ‘with it’.

5. Pain in other parts of your body

You may feel pain or pressure in your jaw, neck, arm, lower or upper back, belly or torso. You may feel like you have indigestion or reflux. Remember pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong.

6. Unusual fatigue/weakness

You may suddenly feel very tired or very weak.

No two heart attacks are the same. Not all these symptoms may occur. If you are experiencing some of these symptoms, call 111 immediately. While your symptoms may turn out to be harmless, they may also be the result of a heart attack.

For more information visit the Heart Foundation NZ website(external link) 

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Dr Sharon Leitch, GP and Senior Lecturer, University of Otago

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