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...

MHS Minute | October 2022

Video
11/9/2022
MHS Minute | October 2022

This MHS Minute focuses on the contraceptive care services available to service members and beneficiaries. Learn more by visiting: https://tricare.mil/birthcontrol and https://www.health.mil/Military-Health-Topics/Total-Force-Fitness/Preventive-Health/Womens-Health/Contraceptive-Care-QnA Access communications products at https://www.health.mil/Military-Health-Topics/MHS-Toolkits/Contraceptive-Care-Toolkit

Recommended Content:

Contraceptive Care Toolkit | Women's Health

Contraceptive Care

Video
10/4/2022
Contraceptive Care

Did you know that TRICARE waived copayments and cost-shares for medical contraceptive care? Learn more at www.tricare.mil/birthcontrol.

Recommended Content:

Women's Health | Contraceptive Care Toolkit

July MHS Minute

Video
8/9/2022
July MHS Minute

The July MHS Minute highlights a dedicated webpage for women's health to educate women and their partners on the health care services and resources available to them. Visit https://www.health.mil/Military-Health-Topics/Total-Force-Fitness/Preventive-Health/Womens-Health to learn more. Additionally, learn more about the new national suicide and crisis lifeline, 988.

Recommended Content:

Women's Health | Suicide Prevention | Psychological Fitness

Be Prepared with Back-to-School Immunizations

Video
7/28/2022
Be Prepared with Back-to-School Immunizations

Air Force Surgeon General Miller encourages parents to get their kids immunized before heading back to school in the fall.

Recommended Content:

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Children's Health | Immunizations | Back to School

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

Heart Health Month 2022

Video
2/11/2022
Heart Health Month 2022

Love letter from your heart. Happy Heart Health Month!

Recommended Content:

Heart Health | Total Force Fitness | Heart Health Toolkit

Dental Health is Mission Critical

Video
1/21/2022
Dental Health is Mission Critical

Dental emergencies are one of the top reasons people can't deploy or why they're brought home early. Take care of your dental health with these tips.

Recommended Content:

Dental Health | TRICARE Dental Care | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

Stay Mission Ready with the Flu Vaccine

Video
10/13/2021
Stay Mission Ready with the Flu Vaccine

FLU SEASON IS HERE, AND THE THREAT OF SERIOUS ILLNESS MAKES IT EVEN MORE IMPORTANT TO GET YOUR FLU VACCINE THIS YEAR.

Recommended Content:

Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Toolkit | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Immunizations | Seasonal Influenza Resource Center 2022-23

Flu Season: Staying Healthy

Video
10/13/2021
Flu Season: Staying Healthy

 FLU SEASON IS HERE AND GETTING YOUR FLU VACCINE IS THE BEST WAY TO STOP THE SPREAD.

Recommended Content:

Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Toolkit | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Immunizations | Seasonal Influenza Resource Center 2022-23

Preventive Health Care for You

Video
8/11/2021
Preventive Health Care for You

Preventive health care - getting a physical exam, getting vaccines on time, and listening to your body - is key to a long and healthy life.

Recommended Content:

Total Body Preventive Health - Dental, Medical & Mental | Preventive Health Toolkit | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

Back to School Fast Tips

Video
8/11/2021
Back to School Fast Tips

Here are some fast tips for a smooth and safe transition to getting back to school this year.

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health Toolkit | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Children's Health | Back to School

Total Force Fitness Reintroduction

Video
2/17/2021
Total Force Fitness Reintroduction

The Military Health System is reintroducing Total Force Fitness. The Total Force Fitness concept focuses on a service member’s entire health throughout their career, connecting eight dimensions of fitness to optimize health, performance, and readiness holistically.

Recommended Content:

Physical Fitness | Environmental Fitness | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Nutritional Fitness | Spiritual Fitness | Psychological Fitness | Social Fitness | Financial Fitness | Mobile Apps

Sleep and TBI

Video
2/8/2021
Sleep and TBI

Sleep disturbances are common for service members and veterans following a mild TBI, also known as concussion.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | TBI Educators | Patient and Family Resources | TBI Provider Resources | Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | Brain Injury Awareness To Improve Readiness | Brain Injury Awareness To Improve Readiness | Total Force Fitness

Measles Myths: The Measles Can Be Life-Threatening

Video
9/30/2019
Measles Myths: The Measles Can Be Life-Threatening

Measles can be life-threatening, especially for children and among people who have a compromised immune system.

Recommended Content:

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Children's Health | Immunizations | Immunization Healthcare Division | Vaccine-Preventable Diseases | Measles-Mumps-Rubella

Measles Myths: Hand Washing Alone Won't Prevent Measles

Video
9/23/2019
Measles Myths: Hand Washing Alone Won't Prevent Measles

Hand washing alone will not prevent the spread of measles. Dr. Margaret Ryan, preventive medicine physician, debunks some myths about vaccinations.

Recommended Content:

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Children's Health | Immunizations | Immunization Healthcare Division | Vaccine-Preventable Diseases | Measles-Mumps-Rubella
<< < 1 2 > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 2
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