Skip to main content

Military Health System

Women’s Heart Attacks Symptoms Can Differ from Men’s: Know the Signs

Image of Signs and symptoms of a heart attack can differ between women and men. If you have any of these symptoms, call 911 quickly. Signs and symptoms of a heart attack can differ between women and men. If you have any of these symptoms, call 911 quickly. (Photo by: The Defense Health Agency)

Recommended Content:

Heart Health Toolkit | Total Force Fitness | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Heart Health | Women's Health

When you are having a heart attack, minutes matter. Fast action can save lives.

Heart disease and heart attacks are the number one global killer of both men and women. But women often experience symptoms other than the classic crushing chest pain and left arm pain that typically afflict men having heart attacks.

For example, women are more likely to experience pain between the shoulder blades, abdominal pain, and nausea.

In some situations, a failure to identify the unique symptoms women experience can lead to delays in seeking treatment.

If you're a woman, here are the most common heart attack symptoms:

  • Chest pain or discomfort. This is the most common symptom for both men and women, but some women may experience a sense of squeezing or fullness, and the pain can be anywhere in the chest, not just on the left side.
  • Pain in the arm(s), back, neck, or jaw. This type of pain is more common in women than in men. The pain can be gradual or sudden, and it may increase or decrease before becoming intense.
  • Stomach pain. This is a signal of a heart attack that is often mistaken for heartburn, indigestion or a stomach ulcer. Other times, women experience severe abdominal pressure. This is where it's best to be on the safe side and call 911.
  • Shortness of breath, nausea, or lightheadedness. If you're having trouble breathing for no apparent reason, you could be having a heart attack, especially if you're also having one or more symptoms. More women than men experience this aspect of a heart attack.
  • Cold sweat. This is another heart attack symptom more common in women having a heart attack. It may feel like stress-related sweating.
  • Fatigue. Some women who have heart attacks feel extremely tired, even if they haven't moved much. You may feel the tiredness in your chest.

How Long Can a Woman Have Symptoms Before a Heart Attack?

Many people expect a heart attack to come on suddenly. But research suggests that women experience symptoms for several weeks before a heart attack. Doctors say it's important to encourage women to seek medical care when they have symptoms.

"Despite women have more symptomatic chest pain than men, they are less likely to have timely and appropriate care," said Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Travis Batts, medical director of cardiology at Wilford Hall, Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas.

He pointed to the 2021 guidelines on chest pain.

Also, keep in mind you can have heart problems -- even a heart attack -- without chest pain. That's particularly common among women.

Call 911 – Quickly

  • Call 911 immediately if you experience heart attack warning signs. Calling 911 is almost always the fastest way to get life-saving treatment and preserve your heart muscle and tissues.
  • An emergency medical services team can begin treatment when they arrive – up to an hour sooner than if you get to the hospital by car. EMS staff are also trained to revive someone whose heart has stopped.
  • Patients with chest pain who arrive by ambulance usually receive faster treatment at the hospital, too.

Should I Take Aspirin During a Heart Attack?

Medical advice on taking aspirin has changed over the years when it comes to treating an initial heart attack or preventing a subsequent heart attack.

  • Don't do anything before calling 911. Specifically, don't take an aspirin then wait for it to relieve your pain. Aspirin alone won't treat your heart attack.
  • The emergency operator can advise you whether to take aspirin and how much to take.
  • If the operator does not suggest aspirin, you may receive the drug in the ambulance or emergency department.

Heart Attacks Can Happen Even if You're Young and in Good Shape

Younger women are having more heart attacks, according to a National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute study in 2019.

Researchers were surprised to find that while the heart attack rate has decreased among older adults, it's risen among those ages 35-54, especially women. The study reviewed more than 28,000 hospitalizations for heart attacks in four cities.

One condition, spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or SCAD, causes a small percentage of heart attacks overall, but is responsible for 40% of heart attacks in women younger than age 50, according to 2020 research from the American College of Cardiology. The average SCAD patient is just 42 years old and is likely healthy and active.

The Bottom Line

"As our approach to the diagnosis and management of chest pain syndromes continues to evolve, we must highlight the impact of racial and ethnic disparities on the evaluation of patients with chest pain," Batts said. "There are disparities in chest pain management in diverse populations that lead to worse outcomes, increased heart attacks, and higher death rates."

His bottom line recommendations? "For both women and men alike, the keys to improving your heart health are simple: Take all symptoms seriously, ask questions about your heart health, and get screened yearly for heart disease risk factors."

You also may be interested in...

August Performance Triad Month

Article Around MHS
7/21/2022
Color graphic depicting aspects of wellness.

As part of its August “P3 for All” campaign, the U.S. Army Public Health Center is encouraging all Army leaders, soldiers, family members and soldiers for life to embrace the synergy of sleep, activity and nutrition, the core components of the Performance Triad, along with the important elements of mental readiness and spiritual readiness.

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness | Physical Fitness | Nutritional Fitness | Sleep

Deployment Readiness Education for Servicewomen App

Video
7/12/2022
Deployment Readiness Education for Servicewomen App

This video provides a brief overview of the Deployment Readiness Education for Servicewomen App.

Recommended Content:

Women's Health

Ensuring Access to Essential Women's Health Care for Service Members, Dependents, Beneficiaries and Department of Defense Civilian Employees

Policy

Memorandum for Senior Pentagon Leadership, Defense Health Agency and DOD Field Activity Directors about access for essential women's health care services.

  • Identification #: N/A
  • Date: 6/28/2022
  • Type: Memorandums
  • Topics: Women's Health

Chlamydia is the Military's Most Common Sexually Transmitted Infection

Article
6/21/2022
Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S., and most people who have it don’t know it. You may be able to get STI testing and treatment at your local community health clinic. In the photo, a service member at Naval Medical Center Camp LeJeune Community Health Clinic gets tested for STIs.  (Photo: Naval Medical Center Camp LeJeune Public Affairs)

Rates for Chlamydia have been rising in recent years. Chlamydia can cause permanent damage that can make it difficult or impossible for women to get pregnant. It often shows no symptoms at all but in some cases, it can cause a burning sensation when peeing in both men and women.

Recommended Content:

Women's Health | Men's Health | Sexually Transmitted Infection Prevention | Reproductive Health Toolkit

LRMC CNS Fuels Progression in Military Medicine

Article Around MHS
6/17/2022
military personnel in neonatal care class

Army Maj. Rebeccah Dindinger serves as a Clinical Nurse Specialists at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Women's Health

Tactical Diaper Bags and Other Fathers' Day Tips from a Marine Officer

Article
6/16/2022
Tactical Diaper Bags and Other Fathers' Day Tips from a Marine Officer

“When we deploy, our lives become simpler, while theirs become more complex: In addition to missing their husband and father, they are missing someone who should be helping to shoulder the burden that military life places on kids.”

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness

Tactical Diaper Bags and Other Fathers' Day Tips from a Marine Officer

Photo
6/16/2022
Tactical Diaper Bags and Other Fathers' Day Tips from a Marine Officer

An experienced military dad offers advice to new service members beginning their parenting journey.

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness

For Sexually Transmitted Infections, Young People are at Higher Risk

Article
6/13/2022
Protect yourself in the war against sexually transmitted infections. If you have questions about where to find free condoms, STI testing, or treatment, contact your health care provider or local installation clinic.

Every year, thousands of service members are diagnosed with at least one sexually transmitted infection. Topping the list of the most common are chlamydia, gonorrhea, and genital herpes, military health data shows.

Recommended Content:

Sexually Transmitted Infection Prevention | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Men's Health | Women's Health

Doctors Recommend Sunscreen for All Skin Complexions

Article
6/13/2022
The dangers of too much sunlight – from sunspots to skin cancer – are real risks for everyone regardless of skin complexion, doctors say.

The dangers of too much sunlight – from sunspots to skin cancer – are real risks for everyone regardless of skin complexion, doctors say.

Recommended Content:

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Summer Safety

Expectant Moms Have Group Option for Prenatal Care

Article Around MHS
6/10/2022
Midwife helps expectant military mom during pregnancy

The San Antonio Market offers a group obstetric model for pregnant women at Brooke Army Medical Center.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Women's Health

Could a Therapy Dog Help with Your Dental Anxiety?

Article
6/2/2022
Air Force Brig. Gen. Goldie, a facility therapy dog at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, helps reduce anxiety in a patient with complex dental conditions that require multiple appointments. The use of therapy dogs is part of an ongoing study with these patients.

A first-of-its-kind study at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is researching whether using facility therapy dogs in dentists’ offices could reduce patient anxiety and improve outcomes for military dental treatment programs.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Total Force Fitness

Tips for Military Parents Planning PCS Moves with Children

Article
6/2/2022
Moving can be hard on military families, especially on children. Moving to a new home, going to a new school, finding new friends – it can be unsettling for kids of any age. Yet there are things that service members can do to prepare for a permanent change of station move that can make for a smoother transition for the children.

Moving can be hard on military families, especially on children. Moving to a new home, going to a new school, finding new friends – it can be unsettling for kids of any age. Yet, there are things that service members can do to prepare for a permanent change of station move that can make for a smoother transition for the children.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Total Force Fitness

PTSD Awareness Month - PTSD Awareness

Infographic
6/1/2022
PTSD Awareness Month - PTSD Awareness

Unfortunately, experiencing trauma is not uncommon. If you’ve experienced trauma and notice symptoms of #PTSD, don’t hesitate to ask your primary care provider about possible treatment. #TreatmentWorks #PTSDAwarenessMonth www.health.mil/ptsd

Recommended Content:

June | Total Force Fitness | Psychological Fitness | Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD Awareness Month - Treatment Works

Infographic
6/1/2022
PTSD Awareness Month - Treatment Works

Experiencing #PTSD can make one feel hopeless. Fortunately, there are strategies and treatments that WORK to relieve PTSD symptoms. Don’t wait, seek help today. #PTSDAwarenessMonth www.health.mil/ptsd

Recommended Content:

June | Total Force Fitness | Psychological Fitness | Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Men's Health Month - Taking Charge

Infographic
6/1/2022
Men's Health Month - Taking Charge

June is #MensHealthMonth. Your strength is rooted in your health and well-being, so #BeStrong and make sure you’re staying up to date on all health screenings and tests. www.health.mil/menshealth

Recommended Content:

June | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Men's Health
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 31 - 45 Page 3 of 17
Refine your search
Last Updated: July 15, 2022
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery