Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

How they differ from those in men (and medical textbooks)

Women can experience all the textbook heart attack symptoms that men do. However, heart attack symptoms in women tend to be more subtle, leading many women and their healthcare providers to downplay them or delay treatment.

For example, while chest pain is the classic symptom associated with reduced blood flow to the heart, many women having a heart attack have no chest pain. Still others experience a burning sensation that can easily be confused for heartburn. Heart attack symptoms in women also include things that are not immediately thought to be attributed to the heart, such as nausea.

This article covers the signs of heart attack in women, along with when women should contact their healthcare provider regarding symptoms they may be having.

Woman comforting a woman experiencing nausea and indigestion

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Heart Attack Symptoms In Women

If you are a woman who is experiencing signs of a heart attack or symptoms that you think might be related to your heart, you need to see a healthcare provider.

Heart attacks may behave differently in women than in men. Here are some of the ways that heart attack symptoms in women can differ from those experienced by men.

Burning Sensation and/or Tenderness

Angina is typically described as a pressure-like chest pain that may radiate to the jaw or shoulder. In men, that's usually accurate.

But many women with angina have no actual chest discomfort at all. Instead, they report a hot or burning sensation, or even tenderness to touch, that may be located in the back, shoulders, arms, neck, upper abdomen, or jaw.

Vomiting or Weakness Without Chest Pain

It's not uncommon for women having heart attacks to experience nausea, vomiting, indigestion, shortness of breath, or simply sudden and extreme fatigue—but no chest pain.

Unfortunately, it is easy for healthcare providers to attribute these heart attack symptoms in women to something other than the heart, such as musculoskeletal pain, gastrointestinal discomfort, or stress.

Signs of a Silent Heart Attack In Women

A woman can have a heart attack and not know it. This is known as a silent heart attack, or silent myocardial infarction (SMI). It's called "silent" because symptoms can be so brief and mild that you hardly notice them or simply attribute what you are feeling to something less serious, like heartburn.

A silent heart attack may not be as painful or extreme as the "classic" heart attack, but that doesn't mean it's less serious or damaging. If you think you could be having any signs of a silent heart attack, you should call 911 and get medical attention right away.

The four silent signs of a heart attack in women are:

  • A feeling of pressure, fullness, squeezing, or discomfort in the center of the chest
  • Discomfort in other areas of your body, particularly your arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Difficulty breathing, dizziness, or lightheadedness
  • Nausea, vomiting, and cold sweats, which may be mistaken for flu symptoms

Women Tend to Minimize Their Symptoms

Studies now indicate that women tend to complain less about their cardiac symptoms than men, so they may fail to alert their healthcare providers to symptoms that really should not be ignored. Why women tend to do this is pure speculation.

Regardless, it is important that you tell your healthcare provider about any new or disturbing symptom that even remotely might be related to your heart.

When Should Women Seek Medical Help For Possible Heart Attack Symptoms?

Call 911 immediately if you experience any of the following signs of heart attack in women:

  • Unexplained shortness of breath lasting more than five to 10 minutes
  • Sudden severe nausea, vomiting, or indigestion
  • Sudden sweating for no reason
  • Sudden unexplained extreme fatigue or weakness
  • Loss of consciousness or fainting
  • Sudden, unexplained, panicky feeling of doom

Again, the key is to listen to your body and follow your instincts. If you think your symptoms could be a sign of a heart attack or even remotely related to your heart, get yourself checked out.

If the healthcare provider brushes you off, that's a reflection on the practitioner and not you. That's also a sign that it's time to get yourself a new healthcare provider—one who will actually do what is necessary to get to the bottom of your symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the most common age for a woman to have a heart attack?

    The average age of a first heart attack in women is 72. However, heart attacks are becoming more common in younger women, particularly women who are younger than 54.

  • What are the symptoms of a mini heart attack?

    Mini heart attacks are often referred to as silent heart attacks because symptoms can be so mild that they go unnoticed. The symptoms are similar to those of a major heart attack but much less severe. Symptoms may include pressure or fullness in the center of the chest, discomfort in other areas of the body such as the arms or jaw, shortness of breath, nausea, and cold sweats.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Heart attacks striking younger women.

  2. Harvard Health. Can you have a heart attack and not know it?.

  3. van der Ende MY, Juarez-Orozco LE, Waardenburg I, et al. Sex-based differences in unrecognized myocardial infarctionJ Am Heart Assoc. 2020;9(13):e015519. doi:10.1161/JAHA.119.015519

  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Heart attack and women.

  5. American Heart Association. Heart attacks are becoming more common in younger people, especially women.

Additional Reading
  • Lehmann JB, Wehner PS, Lehmann CU, Savory LM. Gender bias in the evaluation of chest pain in the emergency department. Am J Cardiol 1996;77:641.

  • Mosca L, Manson JE, Sutherland SE, et al. Cardiovascular disease in women: a statement for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association. Writing Group. Circulation 1997;96:2468.