In recent decades, scientists have realized that heart attack symptoms can be quite different for women than for men.
In 2003, the journal Circulation published the findings of a multicenter study of 515 women who’d experienced a heart attack. The most frequently reported symptoms didn’t include chest pain. Instead, women reported unusual fatigue, sleep disturbances, and anxiety. Nearly 80 percent reported experiencing at least one symptom for more than a month before their heart attack.
Symptoms of a heart attack in women include:
- Unusual fatigue lasting for several days or sudden severe fatigue
- Sleep disturbances
- Shortness of breath
- Indigestion or gas-like pain
- Upper back, shoulder, or throat pain
- Jaw pain or pain that spreads up to your jaw
- Pressure or pain in the center of your chest, which may spread to your arm
In a 2012 survey published in the journal Circulation, only 65 percent of women said they’d call 911 if they thought they might be having a heart attack.
Even if you’re not sure, get emergency care right away. Base your decision on what feels normal and abnormal for you. If you haven’t experienced symptoms like this before, don’t hesitate to get help. If you don’t agree with your doctor’s conclusion, get a second opinion.
Heart attack in women over 50
Women experience significant physical changes around age 50, the age when many women start to go through menopause. During this period of life, your levels of the hormone estrogen drop. Estrogen is believed to help protect the health of your heart. After menopause, your risk of heart attack increases.
Unfortunately, women who experience a heart attack are less likely to survive than men. Therefore, it becomes even more important to remain conscious of your heart health after you go through menopause.
There are additional symptoms of a heart attack that women over the age of 50 may experience. These symptoms include:
- severe chest pain
- pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
- rapid or irregular heartbeat
Remain aware of these symptoms and schedule regular health checkups with your doctor.
Silent heart attack symptoms
A silent heart attack is like any other heart attack, except it occurs without the usual symptoms. In other words, you may not even realize you’ve experienced a heart attack.
In fact, research from Duke University Medical Center have estimated that as many as 200,000 Americans experience heart attacks each year without even knowing it. Unfortunately, these events cause heart damage and increase the risk of future attacks. Silent heart attacks are more common among people with diabetes and in those who’ve had previous heart attacks.
Symptoms that may indicate a silent heart attack include:
- mild discomfort in your chest, arms, or jaw that goes away after resting
- shortness of breath and tiring easily
- sleep disturbances and increased fatigue
- abdominal pain or heartburn
- skin clamminess
After having a silent heart attack, you may experience more fatigue than before or find that exercise becomes more difficult. Get regular physical exams to stay on top of your heart health. If you have cardiac risk factors, talk to your doctor about getting tests done to check the condition of your heart.
Schedule regular checkups
By scheduling regular checkups and learning to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack, you can help lower your risk of severe heart damage from a heart attack. This may increase your life expectancy and well-being.
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- “New imaging technology reveals prevalence of “silent” heart attacks [press release].” Eurekalert. 2009.
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- “Heart attack (myocardial infarction).” Cleveland Clinic. 2019.