Most common heart attack signs in men and women

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

Simple. Clear. Easy to understand. Each of these symptoms could be a warning sign of a heart attack. Notice that the unique symptoms listed on the right of this CardioSmart infograpic excerpt are most commonly seen in women.

But there’s more . . .  

These cardiac symptoms often come and go – sometimes over a surprisingly long period of time.  They’re not always severe. We may believe that heart attack chest pain must be described as “crushing”, but it’s often frequently described by women with words like pressure, heavy, burning, full or tight – not “crushing” and often not even as “pain”.

At least 10% of women experience NO CHEST SYMPTOMS at all during a heart attack.(1)

Over 95% of female heart attack survivors report knowing something was “terribly wrong” in the months leading up to a cardiac diagnosis.

For example, an interesting cardiac symptom often reported by women is what we call “a sense of impending doom” (anxiety occurring along with shortness of breath that doesn’t let up).

What to do when these symptoms strike?

You know your body.

You know when something is just not right.

Seek immediate medical care if you experience troubling symptoms that feel unusual for you, especially if they persist over time or get worse. 

Call 911 if you believe that serious symptoms might be heart-related.

Find out more about this CardioSmart infographic from the American College of Cardiology.


(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.


January 31, 2016:   The American Heart Association released its first ever scientific statement on women’s heart attacks, confirming that “compared to men, women tend to be undertreated, and including this finding: “While the most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort for both sexes, women are more likely to have atypical symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and back or jaw pain.”


Q: What was the first symptom you experienced during your cardiac event?

NOTE FROM CAROLYN:  My book “A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease” reads like a “best of Heart Sisters” blog collection. You can ask for it at your local bookshop or public library, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon, or order it directly from my publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press (use the code HTWN to save 20% off the list price).

See also:

The symptomatic tipping point during heart attack

Heart attack misdiagnosis in women

How women can tell if they’re headed for a heart attack

Slow-onset heart attack: the trickster that fools us

Downplaying symptoms: just pretend it’s NOT a heart attack

Words matter when we describe our heart attack symptoms

Researchers openly mock the ‘myth’ of women’s unique heart attack symptoms

How to communicate your heart symptoms to your doctor

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


31 thoughts on “Most common heart attack signs in men and women


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