Heart Attack Women Symptoms

Women who experience a heart attack may feel some of the same symptoms as men, including chest pain and difficulty breathing. However, the range and severity of heart attack symptoms vary in women. During a mild heart attack, women may even be unaware that they are experiencing an acute myocardial infarction (AMI).

Unusual Heart Attack Symptoms in Women: Fatigue and Anxiety

Heart attack symptoms in women are often more subtle than those experienced by men. Women are more likely to experience fatigue, anxiety, sleep disturbances, or stomach complaints during heart attacks. Unfortunately, these symptoms are not generally associated with an AMI. Even members of the medical profession sometimes fail to link these symptoms with heart problems. It is not unusual for a woman’s heart attack to be dismissed as anxiety.

Although considered a classic heart attack symptom, chest pain is not commonly experienced by women. Results from a survey of 515 women published in the journal Circulation revealed some interesting statistics: more than 70 percent of women experienced no chest pain prior to the attack, and as many as 43 percent of women reported no chest pain symptoms during the attack.

Further, women who do experience chest pain may describe the pain as “sharp,” rather than “crushing.” This description does not match the popular (and traditional medical) perception of heart attack symptoms, and may be misdiagnosed.

Heart Attack Symptoms Before and During an Attack

The statistics gathered in the study included data on unusual symptoms women noticed in the days before the attack. Of those surveyed, 95 percent of women reported unusual symptoms; the most common being fatigue, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. This list presents some of the common symptoms experienced by women both prior to and during a heart attack. These symptoms are important to consider in addition to chest pain, since in some women they may be the only symptoms present.

Symptoms Before Heart Attack Symptoms during Heart Attack
Fatigue (71 percent) Shortness of breath (58 percent)
Sleep disturbances (48 percent) Weakness (55 percent)
Shortness of breath (42 percent ) Fatigue (43 percent)
Indigestion (39 percent) “Cold sweat” (39 percent)
Anxiety (35 percent) Dizziness (39 percent)

Women and Heart Disease: Popular Misconceptions

There exists a popular, and deadly, misconception that women are not as likely to experience heart disease as men. Some physicians may even still believe this myth. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Heart disease is the leading killer of women, rating even higher than breast cancer.

Unfortunately, heart attack symptoms in women differ so markedly from symptoms in men, that female heart problems are often overlooked. Doctors (and women themselves) often mistake heart attack symptoms in women for anxiety disorders, fatigue, asthma, or indigestion. Once heart disease is diagnosed in women, they are still less likely than men to receive heart disease medication, or to undergo heart surgery. This deficiency in treatment leads to poor outcomes in women with heart disease.

Heart Disease, Women, and Research

Another barrier in the treatment of heart disease in women is the fact that research has focused on men. The results of clinical research in men have been applied to women, assuming that the disease is identical in both sexes. This is not the case, however. Women’s physical reactions to heart problems are gender specific, and need to be studied in clinical trials aimed specifically at women. In recent years, the medical and scientific communities have identified the need for heart research in women. Women with heart problems are encouraged to take part in clinical trials focusing on heart disease in women.

Heart Disease Statistics and Women

  • 240,000 American women have heart attacks annually, equaling AMI rates in men.
  • Statistics indicate that between 45 to 65 years of age, heart disease kills twice as many women as breast cancer.
  • One out of every two women dies of heart disease or stroke.
  • 63 percent of women who suffer fatal heart attacks had no indication of heart problems.


Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. (updated 2004). Sexes aren’t equal for heart attacks. Retrieved January 28, 2004, from www.cbc.ca/stories/2004/01/22/heart_women040122.

Guidant. (nd). Introduction to women’s heart health: Heart disease is the leading killer of American women. Retrieved January 26, 2004, from www.guidant.com/women/.

Lawrence, J. (updated 2001). Women beware: That sweaty feeling and stomach ache could be a heart attack. Retrieved January 26, 2004, from www.heart-help.net/attack2.html.

Longley, R. (nd). Women’s heart attack symptoms different from men’s. Retrieved January 26, 2004, from usgovinfo.about.com/cs/healthmedical/a/womensami.htm.

McSweeney, J., Cody, M., O’Sullivan, P., Elberson, K., Moser, D., Garvin, B. (2003). Women’s early warning symptoms of acute myocardial infarction. Circulation 108, 2619-2623.

Women’s Heart Foundation. (nd). What is a heart attack? Retrieved January 26, 2004, from www.womensheartfoundation.org/content/HeartAttack/what_is_a_h eart_attack.asp.