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Straight, No Chaser: Heart Attacks in Women

By Jeffrey Sterling, MD January 18, 2019

At the beginning of the conversation, a heart attack is a heart attack. You will do well to understand and recognize the classic signs of a heart attack in evolution and fully developed. However, it is an accurate and important piece of nuance that women can experience a heart attack in qualitatively different ways (this is also true for certain other populations, such as diabetics and the elderly).
So, to that end, appreciate the following:

  • The most common symptom of a heart attack in a woman is the same as it is in men: chest pain, pressure or some other form of discomfort.
  • Where women express heart attacks differently is in the primacy of some of the other most common symptoms. These include shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and pain in the jaw or back. In fact, women can have a heart attack without ever developing chest pain or discomfort.

Straight, No Chaser has previously addressed heart attack recognition; here is a quick list of the most common signs of a heart attack in women. This doesn’t mean if you’re experience these symptoms, you’re having a heart attack; it means if you’re experiencing these symptoms you should get an immediate evaluation. When it comes to heart attacks, we say “time is tissue,” meaning the longer your heart attack goes undetected and untreated, the more damage it’s causing to your heart.

  • Chest pain, pressure, squeezing, burning or fullness most likely in the center of your chest. The discomfort tends to last more than a few minutes, and you may experience multiple episodes.
  • Chest pain that radiates to one or both of your arms, up to your jaw, or through you to your back. Pain in these locations (as well as in your stomach) may occur in a heart attack without accompanying chest pain.
  • Shortness of breath, with or without accompanying chest pain.
  • Nausea, vomiting, sweating, fluttering of your heart (palpitations) or lightheadedness.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death among women in the United States. Too often the deciding variable is delay in diagnosis and treatment. Too many women believe their symptoms are attributable to reflux, the normal aches and pains of aging or something like the flu or bronchitis.
We refer you to these Straight, No Chaser posts for additional information about heart attacks. Get evaluated now to understand your risk for a heart attack, and be especially sure to get evaluated immediately for signs suggestive of a heart attack.
Feel free to ask your SMA expert consultant any questions you may have on this topic.
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