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Women's Heart Health: Recognizing Heart Attacks

September 7, 2010

Whereas chest pain is the typical symptom of heart attacks in men, women’s symptoms are harder to connect with a heart attack. According to a study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, women have more unrecognized heart attacks than men and are more likely to be mistakenly diagnosed and discharged.

women heart attack symptomsSo what might a woman having a heart attack experience? The Circulation study showed that 58% experienced shortness of breath, 55% felt weak and 43% felt unusual fatigue. Women also had symptoms like nausea, dizziness, upper abdominal pressure or discomfort that may feel like indigestion, lower chest discomfort or back pain.

Nieca Goldberg, MD, a cardiologist and chief of Women's Cardiac Care at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and author of "The Women's Healthy Heart Program" said "About six weeks before the actual heart attack, women were more likely to experience shortness of breath, unexplained fatigue or stomach pain as an early warning sign that they might have a blocked artery."

If you think you might be having heart attack symptoms, dial 911 right away for an ambulance to take you to the emergency room. Don’t wait even five minutes. Emergency medical personnel can start treatment, such as oxygen, heart medication, and pain relievers, as soon as they arrive, says Mohamud Daya, MD, MS, an associate professor of emergency services at Oregon Health and Science University.

If it doesn't occur to the emergency room doctor to check for heart attack, be bold. Goldberg tells women to say outright: "I think I'm having a heart attack." Because many doctors still don't recognize that women's symptoms differ, they may mistake them for arthritis, pulled muscles, indigestion, gastrointestinal problems, or even anxiety and hypochondria.

For more information, read Her Guide to a Heart Attack: Recognizing Female Heart Attack Symptoms from WebMD.  

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