Women and Heart Disease

Signs and Symptoms


Heart disease often looks and feels very different in men and women.

Although many women will have the classic crushing chest pain, which is often thought of as the hallmark sign of a heart attack, at least one-third of women will have atypical symptoms or no symptoms at all. Tragically, heart attack or sudden cardiac death can be the first symptom of CAD in younger women.

This underscores the importance of always knowing your risk factors for heart disease—you won’t know if you don’t get checked. High blood pressure, for example, is often called a “silent killer” because it has no symptoms. In other words, the only way to know if your blood pressure is high—or becoming too high—is to check your blood pressure readings over time. Uncontrolled high blood pressure is a leading cause of heart attack and stroke.

What a Heart Attack Feels Like

Typical Symptoms  Women Often Feel
  • Chest pain or discomfort (fewer women than men feel this)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Arm, neck, jaw or back pain
  • Cold sweat
  • Unusual or extreme tiredness
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Upper body discomfort or indigestion (back pain, jaw pain without any chest pain or pressure)
  • Palpitations
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sudden anxiety or confusion

There are many ways CAD can be diagnosed.

Listen to Your Body

Every 90 seconds in the United States, a woman suffers a heart attack. Keep in mind that that sudden, crushing chest pain, or pressure or tightness aren’t the only signs of a heart attack.

If you have a nagging feeling something is wrong, play it safe and call 911 right away. Let the health experts decide if you are having a heart attack. Treatment is most effective if it’s given within one hour of a heart attack starting.

Preventing CAD

The choices you make every day play a large role in determining your risk for CAD and how quickly it might progress. Positive lifestyle changes are very important and can help to prevent CAD and delay its progression.

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Published: February 2017
Editorial Team Lead: Gina Lundberg, MD, FACC
Medical Reviewer: Martha Gulati, MD, MS, FACC

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Women often experience heart attack symptoms differently than men. It's important for a woman to be able to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack and react quickly by calling 911.

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Women and Heart Disease

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