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Hearth & Vascular Center Women's Heart Program

Heart Attack Signs and Symptoms
Because many women don’t even know that they have heart disease, it’s important to know the warning signs and when it’s time to see your doctor. If you know what symptoms to look for, you can work with your physician to treat them early.

Nausea, fatigue, and shortness of breath are some symptoms of heart disease in women, but they can also signal anxiety or stress. In a Gallup survey, 88 percent of primary care physicians were not aware that women’s heart-attack symptoms might differ greatly from men’s symptoms. In addition, emergency room (ER) physicians miss the signs of a heart attack much more often in women under 55 than in men under 55, according to a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Because women’s symptoms are often misdiagnosed, they are far less likely to be treated with aspirin, beta-blockers, and other heart-attack prevention medications. Cardiac catheterization tests are ordered at a much lower rate for women than for men.

Your best defense is knowledge. Learn as much as you can about your own heart health and take an active role in your health care.

If you or a loved one experience any of the following symptoms, get medical attention immediately:

  • pain, squeezing, fullness, or pressure in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and returns
  • pain that moves to the shoulders, neck, or arms
  • chest discomfort accompanied by lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, fatigue, nausea, or shortness of breath (Fatigue, nausea, and shortness of breath are especially common in women.).

Some less common symptoms are:

  • unusual chest, stomach, or abdominal pain
  • nausea or dizziness (without chest pain)
  • shortness of breath and difficulty breathing without chest pain
  • anxiety, weakness, or fatigue for no apparent reason
  • heart palpitations, breaking out in a cold sweat, or paleness.