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Anatomy of a heart attack: It’s different for women

February 2017

Heart attacks happen to both women and men—but they don’t always look the same. They’re not as obvious as you’d see on TV, and that’s true for more women than men.

What to look for
What does a heart attack feel like? Chest pain or discomfort is the most common symptom for both women and men. The pain may last a few minutes or come and go. Some people say it feels like pressure, squeezing, or fullness. Or it may feel like an upset stomach or heartburn.

But women are more likely than men to have other heart attack signs, according to heart specialists. Those signs can include:

  • Shortness of breath with or without chest pain
  • Nausea, lightheadedness, or vomiting
  • Unexplained fatigue that may last for days
  • Back, shoulder, arm or jaw pain

Women are also at higher risk for silent heart attacks, according to some studies. This is when symptoms of a heart attack are so mild that they go unnoticed—or are dismissed as anxiety.

Silent heart attacks are just as dangerous as more obvious heart attacks, though. Left untreated, they can cause scarring and permanent damage, raising the risk of other heart problems.

So don’t be too quick to dismiss shortness of breath or lightheadedness as just anxiety. And make sure you tell medical professionals that you think you’re having a heart attack, not an anxiety attack.

Quick treatment can restore blood flow to the heart and help prevent damage. So be aware of these warning signs for both yourself and others. If there’s even a slight chance you could be having a heart attack, don’t wait. Call 911 and get to a hospital to give your heart the best chance.

 

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