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Signs and Symptoms

Heart disease symptoms often look and feel very different in men and women.

Although many women will have the classic crushing central chest pain, which is often thought of as the hallmark sign of a heart attack, women often experience three or more additional symptoms when they have a heart attack. Tragically, heart attack or sudden cardiac death can be the first symptom of coronary artery disease in women, especially 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 SymptomsWomen Often Feel
  • Chest pain, pressure, heaviness or discomfort (fewer women than men report 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. Visit the Exams and Tests section of our Coronary Artery Disease resource. 

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

Listen to your body

Every 90 seconds in the United States a woman suffers a heart attack, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. 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 worrisome feeling something is wrong, play it safe and call 911 right away. Let the health experts decide if you are having a heart attack or on the verge of a heart attack. Treatment is most effective if it's given within one hour of a heart attack starting.

  • Last Edited 03/11/2021