Mayo Clinic: “What are the symptoms of a heart attack for women?”

by Carolyn Thomas @HeartSisters

It’s been in the news. It’s been presented at cardiology conferences.  It has set cardiac circles and women heart attack survivors abuzz. It’s the question of whether women present with heart attack symptoms that are different than those of men.  The media attention surrounding the claims of this study conclusion has put women’s awareness of heart disease back a decade, in my opinion. 

For clarification, let’s visit the website of the world-famous Mayo Clinic:

“What are the symptoms of a heart attack for women?”

“The most common symptom of a heart attack in both men and 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. Women are also more likely than men to have signs and symptoms unrelated to chest pain, such as:

  • Neck, shoulder, jaw, throat, upper back or abdominal discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Extreme fatigue
  • A profound “sense of impending doom”

“These signs and symptoms are more subtle than the obvious crushing chest pain often associated with heart attacks. ”

NOTE:  At least 10% of women report no chest symptoms at all during a heart attack.(1) This may be because women tend to have blockages not only in their main coronary arteries, but also in the smaller arteries that supply blood to the heart — a condition called small vessel or coronary microvascular disease (MVD).

“Many women tend to show up in emergency rooms after much heart damage has already occurred because their symptoms are not those typically associated with a heart attack.

“If you experience these symptoms or think you’re having a heart attack, call 911 for emergency medical help immediately. Don’t drive yourself to the emergency room.  Chew one full-strength uncoated aspirin.”

UPDATE: When I asked cardiologist Dr. Sharonne Hayes, founder of the Mayo Women’s Heart Clinic, about this issue, she suggested that, due to physicians’ unconscious bias about women being at risk, “women are less likely to be asked about their chest pain, so the symptom is just not recorded, and diagnosis can be delayed.”

“Chest pain is still overwhelmingly the most common symptom in both men and women. Among those women without chest pain, there are some subtle differences: women were more likely to present with other symptoms including jaw pain and nausea or vomiting.”

Find out more about women’s heart disease from Mayo Clinic.

(1)  S. Dey et al, “GRACE: Acute coronary syndromes: Sex-related differences in the presentation, treatment and outcomes among patients with acute coronary syndromes: the Global Registry of Acute Coronary Events”, Heart  2009;95:1 2026.

See also:


5 thoughts on “Mayo Clinic: “What are the symptoms of a heart attack for women?”

  1. Hello Carolyn – thanks for this. Important info; I’m sharing this with my sister, recently diagnosed with heart attack at just 48 years of age. She had no chest pain at all, none.


  2. When the original Canadian study was published and reviewed here, my staff and I were also dismayed by its clever ‘Heart Attack myth’ headlines, but not really surprised by the wide ‘media pickup’ with a headline like that. I wasn’t sure if it was the study’s actual intent, or just a creative newspaper editor who came up with that misleading phrase because it attracts wider readership than the actual minimal findings would, which were not conclusive. We considered it extremely unfortunate at the time that women’s “significant” neck, throat and jaw symptoms were not prominently featured in the headlines instead of the inaccurate word “myth”.

    As I wrote you then, we’ve had hundreds of women survivors coming through our hospital-based rehab program, after the fact, who tell us that they hadn’t known at all that their early jaw, throat or neck symptoms were even remotely associated with a heart attack. Thank you for sharing this Mayo Clinic clarification, and for helping to educate women about ALL potential MI symptoms – not just chest pain.


  3. This credible info from the Mayo Clinic helps to clarify some confusion especially after last year’s headlines here in Canada that women and men have exactly the same chest pain symptoms. Apparently they may not!


  4. This is also what we’re telling our women’s health clinic patients too. It doesn’t matter what the M.I. symptoms might be, it’s most important that women (and men) pay attention to any symptom that just doesn’t feel right, instead of ignoring them, or hoping they’ll somehow go away if we don’t think about them. Women tend to ‘grin and bear it’ even with obvious chest pains – so you can imagine how readily they will choose to ignore any obscure signs like shoulder pain or nausea or shortness of breath if they are unaware that these too can be heart attack symptoms. Thank you for these reminders – very valuable info.


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