What are the Common Heart Attack Symptoms in Women?

What are the Common Heart Attack Symptoms in Women?


5 minute read

Heart conditions are potentially life-threatening and might need medical attention right away. How can you recognize a heart attack? We’ll discuss the early warning signs and symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment.

What is a Heart Attack?

Your heart is in the front of your chest, slightly to the left of the center of your body. It is the central organ  in your circulatory system, pumping blood (carrying oxygen) out to  your body. A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked, often due to a buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances. Together, these substances form plaque in the arteries. When this plaque ruptures, clots form, blood flow is interrupted. Spasms of the coronary artery can also cause heart attacks because the spasm interrupts blood flow. Tobacco and cocaine, among other drugs, can lead to such a spasm. There has been some evidence that COVID-19 may also damage the heart and subsequently lead to a heart attack.

How to Know if You're Having a Heart Attack

The symptoms of anxiety (having a panic attack) are similar to symptoms of a heart attack. How can you tell the difference? One way you can tell the difference is the location of the pain. In some cases, chest pain due to anxiety stays in the chest, whereas chest pain during a heart attack may travel into your arms or other areas. Additionally, panic attacks tend to be short lived lasting seconds to minutes before fading away, whereas a heart attack can last longer.Heart attacks come in a variety of forms with different levels of severity.

A heart attack can occur suddenly or more slowly. Some people experience warning signs hours, days, or even weeks in advance. Angina, or recurrent chest pain or pressure triggered by activity, is often the earliest warning symptom. Women are more likely to experience symptoms, other than chest pain, such as:

  • Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back, or abdominal discomfort

  • Pain in one or both arms

  • Nausea, indigestion, or heartburn

  • Shortness of breath

  • Sweating

  • Fatigue

  • Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness

Silent Heart Attack Symptoms

Silent heart attacks are heart attacks in which you either don’t recognize the signs of a heart attack or experience minimal symptoms (if any). Signs of a silent heart attack include mild chest discomfort, the discomfort of other body parts including arms; back; neck; jaw; or stomach, difficulty breathing and dizziness, and nausea. Recognizing a heart attack can be difficult because many symptoms can also be signs of other conditions, including a panic attack or heartburn. It’s important to seek medical attention if there’s a chance that what you’re experiencing is a heart attack.

How Long Does a Heart Attack Last?

Heart attacks vary in length. Symptoms can persist for minutes, hours, or days. After you experience a heart attack, it will be very important for you to be seen and followed by a cardiologist, a physician that specializes in the heart. They may recommend participating in a cardiac rehabilitation program, many of which have been shown to be very beneficial.. These programs focus on making small lifestyle changes to promote a healthier life while gradually bringing you back to your normal routine. These changes might include medications or finding new ways to handle emotional stress. It can be helpful to get a support system in place to help you through any challenges.

Signs of Heart Problems in Women

While both men and women experience heart attacks, it is important to note that there are often differences in the presentation of heart attacks in women vs. men. While both may experience chest pain, in women, this pain is often not as severe, and is often attributed to something other than a heart attack. The 3 signs that are important to be on the lookout for in women are: Fatigue, Shortness of breath (sometimes fainting or lightheadedness), and 

Heart Attack Risk Factors in Women

There are many different situations and events that can trigger a heart attack.  Risk factors that can lead to a heart attack include age, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, obesity, stress (particularly chronic or emotional stress), and drug use. More factors that increase your risk of heart attack are:

  • Diabetes

  • Mental stress and depression

  • Smoking

  • Inactivity

  • Menopause

  • Pregnancy complications

  • Family history

  • Inflammatory diseases

Prevention Methods, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Lifestyle plays a role in preventing heart attacks. To reduce your risk of experiencing a heart attack, working on the factors that you can control is key. A few suggestions include: maintain a healthy weight, pay attention to what you eat, exercise, manage stress levels, and manage existing conditions (such as diabetes). If you have any of the conditions that increase your risk of a heart attack, it is important to see your provider regularly. If you are at risk for or believe you may have experienced a heart attack, you might be referred to a cardiologist. Remember, if you think you are actively having a heart attack, seek emergency help immediately. 

Some diagnostic tests that your provider or cardiologist may perform include ECG, blood tests, X-rays, ultrasounds, angiograms, CTs, and MRIs. 

There are a few different treatment options depending on your risk, and severity. Medications that could potentially be an option for treatment and/or prevention include: aspirin, thrombolytics, anti-platelet agents, blood-thinning medications, pain relievers, nitroglycerin, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, and statins.. Other treatment options are:coronary angioplasty and stenting, and coronary artery bypass surgery are more typical treatment options. You can reduce the likelihood of heart attack with lifestyle decisions like:

  • Getting regular checkups

  • Controlling blood pressure and cholesterol

  • Exercising daily

  • Maintaining a healthy weight

  • Paying attention to diet

  • Controlling stress

  • Managing diabetes

  • Avoiding or limiting alcohol

  • Avoiding smoking

Contact emergency services if you think you’re experiencing a heart attack.

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