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Women vs. Men: Is There a Difference When It Comes to Heart Attack Symptoms?

January 19, 2016 | Dr. Mary Williams, RN, DC | Comments

While I'm not sure how true it is to say that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, it's clear that there are definitely biological differences between the sexes. Besides the obvious biological differences, there is also a difference in how men and women experience certain illnesses. When it comes to medical emergencies like heart attack, it is important to understand gender-specific symptoms in order to get proper care as soon as possible. Many of my female patients are surprised to learn that heart attack symptoms in women may be felt differently than the heart attack symptoms men experience. While there tends to be a good deal of similarity between the symptoms that men and women experience, let's go over some of the differences in heart attack symptoms in women and men and then discuss areas of overlap.

Men's Symptoms

Even though no two heart attacks are the same, generally speaking, heart attack symptoms men experience tend to be more in line with the types of heart attack symptoms most commonly reported. These symptoms include chest discomfort, chest pain, feeling clammy and cold, sharp crushing pain in the arm or chest that then spreads, headache, dizziness, nausea, heartburn, upper back pain, and shortness of breath.

Women's Symptoms

Heart attack symptoms in women can be less direct. Women having a heart attack may not initially experience chest pain. Some women never experience it but do experience other less-noticeable symptoms, like arm pain (usually in the left arm) and pain in the neck, back, abdomen, or shoulder blades. Others may experience jaw pain, vomiting, light-headedness, or sweating. Women are also more likely to feel overwhelming and unusual fatigue, sometimes accompanied by shortness of breath.

Overlapping Symptoms

Symptoms found in both men and women include chest pain which includes: feelings of discomfort, tightness, pressure, fullness, or squeezing in the center of the chest for more than a few minutes or comes and goes over but does not completely go away. Other shared symptoms could be clammy sweats, paleness, a fluttering feeling in the heart and unexplained feelings of agitation like anxiety, weakness, or fatigue, particularly when exerting oneself.

As you can see, there is a lot of similarity and overlap between the symptoms that men and women can potentially experience, with a few important differences. One of the most significant things that I like to remind my female patients of is that if you feel that something is seriously wrong, you shouldn't wait to call 911. Because women don't always get chest pain, they may attribute their symptoms to normal, everyday stress. This can waste valuable time and create a much more serious situation, so it's essential for women to be especially vigilant about their symptoms. The moment you think you are having a heart attack, don't wait to see if the pain keeps coming back, especially if you're experiencing a combination of the symptoms above. Seeking medical care early on during a heart attack is crucial for getting effective treatment, minimizing damage, and, most importantly, survival.


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