By: Jane Langille
From the way heart attack is depicted in television shows, you may think that it only happens to men and always causes a crushing chest pain that radiates down one arm. The truth though, is that the number of deaths from heart disease and stroke are almost the same for women and men. Notably, women may experience the same heart attack symptoms as men, but they don’t describe their symptoms the same way. They are also more likely to put off seeking treatment.1
Common heart attack warning signs1,2
For women, chest pain may not be the first sign of a heart attack. Surprisingly, women may also experience unusual fatigue, trouble sleeping, problems breathing, indigestion and anxiety for a month or so leading up to a heart attack.
- Chest pain. This is the most common symptom for both men and women, but women may experience it differently, describing it as uncomfortable pressure or squeezing rather than outright pain.
- Discomfort. More common in women, discomfort may be felt in other parts of the upper body, including the neck, jaw, shoulders, arms and back and may be gradual or intense.
- Shortness of breath. This is a particular warning sign if one or more symptoms are also present.
- Sweating. Breaking out in a cold sweat is a common symptom for women and it should be checked out especially for those who don’t usually sweat that way.2
If you have any of the warning signs of heart attack, call 9-1-1 or the emergency response number in your area immediately.
Heart attack risk factors
Researchers recently found that physical inactivity is the most important contributor to heart disease in women 30 years of age and older.3 The Heart & Stroke Foundation provides lots of helpful tips you can use to cut your risk of heart attack for each these areas:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High blood cholesterol
- Being overweight
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Physical inactivity
- In this video from TEDXWomen 2011: The single biggest health threat women face, C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD, director of the Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, California explains women’s heart attack symptoms and why they are often missed. (About 16 minutes).
- Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines and Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines