Healing the Female Heart

Heart Attack Symptoms

Common Symptoms of Heart Attack in Women

The symptoms of heart attack in women are significantly different from those in men. These are the most common:

  • Anxiety, an unexplained sense that "something is wrong"
  • Confusion, reduced levels of alertness
  • Fatigue that makes no sense
  • Gripping sensation in the chest
  • Jaw pain that can extend to the throat
  • Lightheadedness, nausea or profuse sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Pain in the upper abdomen or back
  • Paleness
  • Pressure in the chest
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Spreading pain
  • Throat pain (twinge, ache, soreness)
  • Weak pulse

"Emergency rooms too often discharge women experiencing throat and or jaw pain, reduced levels of alertness, and thready (weak) pulses," Dr. Ross writes. "These are symptoms of heart diseases and in some cases, heart attacks. Women are too often told that their problems are stress-related, heat-related, or a ploy for attention. Correlating symptoms in men, such as chest pain that radiates to the left arm or shortness of breath, would be immediately recognized as indicators of medical problems. Women in cardiac distress are given tranquilizers, and men are admitted to the cardiology units of their nearest hospital."

Dr. Christine Legato of Columbia University Hospital in New York City agrees. "One of five women does not experience the characteristic symptom of a heart attack typical for men: crushing chest pain. Women experience pain in their upper abdomen or back, nausea and profuse sweating, and shortness of breath. They are often sent from emergency rooms with Valium for anxiety and Mylanta for indigestion, their heart problems being overlooked by an unsuspecting and uninformed medical staff.

"Since Richard Steingart wrote his 1988 paper (in the "Annals of Internal Medicine") about how some cardiologists are more likely to dismiss cardiac symptoms more frequently in women than in men, the cardiovascular community has responded positively to the information about women and their experience with heart disease. The paper stimulated a period of intensive research into how women experience coronary artery disease. It has been a slow but rewarding process to educate primary care physicians about the new information."