Signs of a Heart Attack are Different Between Men and Women

February 8, 2019 | More than a college town Dr. Christina Taylor, Internal Medicine & Executive Health Departments, The Iowa Clinic,

Chest pains, heart palpitations, shooting pain in the shoulders or arms — these are well-known signs of a heart attack. Both men and women experience these symptoms, along with nausea, vomiting, stomach discomfort and labored breathing, but in different ways.

Men are much more likely than women to show these tell-tale signs. And their symptoms are much more intense. This difference can make it harder for the opposite sex to recognize a heart attack, putting women at risk of overlooking a serious health issue.

Women also have their own unique symptoms.

Chest pain is the most commonly reported heart attack symptom. Yet most women who suffer heart attacks report no chest pain. Instead, they experience more subtle signs:

  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Flu-like discomfort
  • Back or jaw pain

These symptoms come on slowly. Unlike men, whose heart attacks occur suddenly and without warning, women can have symptoms a month before a heart attack.

Men experience heart attacks much earlier.

For men, the risk of heart attack increases significantly after the age of 45. And the average age for a heart attack is 66.

Estrogen provides a little protection for women — at least until after menopause. The average age for a heart attack in women is 70.

Both men and women should understand the warning signs early in life — especially the more subtle symptoms. The longer you ignore a heart attack, the more damage it can do. If you experience any of the symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.

These factors increase the risk for both men and women.

The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to have cardiac disease. Although, it is possible to have a heart attack without any prior risk factors. Risk factors for men and women include:

  • Smoker or tobacco use
  • Personal history of prior heart attack or stroke
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Age
  • Inactive lifestyle
  • Family history of heart disease before age 45

Even removing one risk factor from this list can decrease your chances of suffering a heart attack. Talk to your primary care provider about your health history and steps you can take to reduce your risk factors.