Although heart disease is often thought of as a problem for men, more women than men die of heart disease each year. One challenge is that some heart disease symptoms in women may be different from those in men. Fortunately, women can take steps to understand their unique symptoms of heart disease and to begin to reduce their risk of heart disease.
Heart attack symptoms for women
The most common heart attack symptom in women is some type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest. But it’s not always severe or even the most prominent symptom, particularly in women. And, sometimes, women may have a heart attack without chest pains. Women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain, such as:
- Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Right arm pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Unusual fatigue
These symptoms can be more subtle than the obvious crushing chest pain often associated with heart attacks. Women may describe chest pain as pressure or a tightness. This may be because women tend to have blockages not only in their main arteries but also in the smaller arteries that supply blood to the heart — a condition called small vessel heart disease or microvascular disease.
Women’s symptoms may occur more often when women are resting, or even when they’re asleep. Mental stress also may trigger heart attack symptoms in women.
Women tend to show up in emergency rooms after heart damage has already occurred because their symptoms are not those typically associated with a heart attack, and because women may downplay their symptoms. If you experience these symptoms or think you’re having a heart attack, call for emergency medical help immediately. Don’t drive yourself to the emergency room unless you have no other options.
Exercise to reduce the risk of heart disease in women
There are other small changes you can make to increase your physical activity throughout the day. You can take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk or ride your bicycle to do errands, or try some situps or pushups while watching television.