Heart Attack Symptoms are Different for Women than for Men. Did You Know?

Heart Attack Symptoms Differ for Women from those for Men, the American Heart Association teaches as part of its annual Go Red for Women Campaign (Image courtesy of AHA resources for Go Red for Women campaign)February 1 is National Wear Red Day®, an annual health observance sponsored by the American Heart Association, to highlight the facts about heart attack risks and symptoms. Part of this observance is a Go Red For Women campaign, to educate women about heart disease and heart attacks.

The month of February has been designated annually as American Heart Health Month by the American Heart Association. American Heart Health Month is recognized as a national health observance by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Facts About Heart Disease and Heart Attacks for Women

Key messages of the National Go Red For Women campaign are:

  • Heart Attacks are the number 1 killer of women nationwide,
  • Heart Disease still kills more women than all cancers combined, and
  • The Symptoms of Heart Attack for women are different than the symptoms for men.

“The fact is: Heart disease kills one in three women each year – that’s approximately one woman every minute. But it doesn’t affect all women alike, and the warning signs for women aren’t the same in men,” the American Heart Association states on a section of its website presenting Facts About Heart Disease in Women.

Here are further facts about heart disease in women provided by the American Heart Association (AHA):

  • “Heart disease causes 1 in 3 women’s deaths each year, killing approximately one woman every minute.
  • 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.
  • Since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease and the gap between men and women’s survival continues to widen.
  • The symptoms of heart disease can be different in women vs. men, and are often misunderstood.
  • While 1 in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, 1 in 3 dies of heart disease.”

“Heart attacks occur when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked by a buildup of plaque in coronary arteries,” the American Heart Association (AHA) explains on its website. “While the initial causation can often be pinned on the usual suspects – heavy smokers, people with high-stress lifestyles, or those who are excessively overweight – the not-so-usual suspects can also be at high risk for heart attack,” says the AHA.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack for Women

In the following video produced for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Campaign, Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum explains the differences between men and women. Dr. Steinbaum is a volunteer for the American Heart Association, and Director of Women and Heart Disease of the Heart and Vascular Institute of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

According to the American Heart Association:

“Sixty-four percent of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms. Because these symptoms vary greatly between men and women, they’re often misunderstood.”

Media has conditioned us to believe that the telltale sign of a heart attack is extreme chest pain. But in reality, women are somewhat more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain. Other symptoms women should look out for are dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen and extreme fatigue.” [emphasis supplied]

Here is a Short List of Symptoms of a Heart Attack for women, provided by the American Heart Association (AHA):

  • “Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.”

“As with men, the most common heart attack symptom in women is chest pain or discomfort. But it’s important to note that women are more likely to experience the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain,” the AHA emphasizes.

“Women who consider themselves healthy often misdiagnose the symptoms of a heart attack because they don’t think it could happen to them,” says the AHA. “That is why it’s crucial to learn about heart disease and stroke, know your numbers, live a heart-healthy lifestyle and be aware of the risk factors of heart disease,” the AHA cautions.

What To Do During a Heart Attack

If you experience any of these signs or symptoms, the American Heart Association (AHA) advises that you:

  • Do not wait to call for help. Dial 9-1-1, make sure to follow the operator’s instructions and get to a hospital right away.
  • Do not drive yourself or have someone drive you to the hospital unless you have no other choice.
  • Try to stay as calm as possible and take deep, slow breaths while you wait for the emergency responders.


Lifestyle changes can make a difference, and “heart disease in women can be treated, prevented and even ended,” says the AHA.

“Studies show that healthy choices have resulted in 330 fewer women dying from heart disease per day,” the AHA notes.

Here are a few lifestyle practices that the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends you should follow:

However, the AHA notes that a commonly believed myth is that “heart disease doesn’t affect women who are fit.” In fact, “Even if you’re a yoga-loving, marathon-running workout fiend, your risk for heart disease isn’t completely eliminated,” the AHA cautions.

“Factors like cholesterol, eating habits and smoking can counterbalance your other healthy habits. You can be thin and have high cholesterol.”

The American Heart Association recommends that you “start getting your cholesterol checked at age 20, or earlier, if your family has a history of heart disease. And while you’re at it, be sure to keep an eye on your blood pressure at your next check-up.”

About the National Go Red For Women Campaign

Following is a video by the American Heart Association about the history and mission of its annual Go Red For Women Campaign, and some of the facts about how heart attacks affect women:

The American Heart Association (AHA) states on its website that it launched National Wear Red Day® in 2003 “to bring attention to cardiovascular disease, which claimed the lives of nearly 500,000 American women each year.” “In 2004, the AHA created Go Red for Women to educate women on heart disease, help women come together to show their support, and increase funding for heart disease research and treatments for those in need.”

According to the American Heart Association, “since the first National Wear Red Day® 10 years ago, tremendous strides have been made in the fight against heart disease in women, including:

  • 21% fewer women dying from heart disease;
  • 23% more women aware that it’s their No. 1 health threat;
  • Publishing of gender-specific results, established differences in symptoms and responses to medications and women-specific guidelines for prevention and treatment; and
  • Legislation to help end gender disparities.”

More Information

See related HelpingYouCare® reports on:

Perceived Stress Increases Risk of Heart Disease, Study Finds; Plus How to Handle Stress

World Heart Day, September 29, Focuses on Prevention of Heart Disease

Studies Link Loneliness to Higher Risk of Death, Decline and Cardiovascular Disease

Experts Advocate Dancing for Health

Harvard Guide to Women’s Health Fifty and Forward Focuses on Prevention

Insufficient Sleep Increases Stroke Risk, New Study Finds

Optimism & Positive Outlook May Help Prevent Heart Attack, New Study Finds

Feb 3 [2012] is National Wear Red Day – for Heart Disease Awareness

For more information about heart disease and stroke, see the HelpingYouCare® resource pages on Heart Disease & Stroke, including


Copyright © 2013 Care-Help LLC, publisher of HelpingYouCare®. All rights reserved.


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