It may surprise you to learn that the signs of a heart attack, especially in women, can be very different than those for men.
Subtle signs of a heart attack
We all know the classic heart attack portrayed over and over again in movies and on TV: Someone writhing in sudden, severe chest pain.
But many heart attacks aren’t like that at all. Instead, they start slowly, typically with some mild, on/off pain or tightness in the chest. These signs are so much less dramatic than what people expect, they too often are ignored. The result, sadly, is often fatal when in fact a prompt response could have saved a loved one’s life.
Symptoms to watch for in both men and women
- Pressure or fullness in the center of the chest. This is the most common symptom. It is often experienced as a sensation of tightness. It is sometimes confused with indigestion. The sensation may last for several minutes or it may come and go.
- Pain in other areas above the belly button. For instance, discomfort in the neck, jaw, back, or stomach, or in one or both arms.
- Shortness of breath. Feeling suddenly out of breath or extra tired for no reason.
- Nausea, lightheadedness, breaking out in a cold sweat, or fainting.
Women may have no chest pain. Instead, women are especially likely to have the less-common symptoms. This can lead to a tragic misdiagnosis, such as thinking it’s just the flu or an upset tummy. If you are caring for a woman—or are a woman yourself—consider that unexplained fatigue, nausea, shortness of breath, and/or upper body pains may be symptoms of a heart attack.
People with diabetes may also have very mild outward signs when a heart attack is occurring. If your relative has diabetes, talk with the doctor about heart attack risk.
Regardless of how they present, heart attacks damage heart tissue. And they can be deadly if prompt treatment is not provided. If you see any of these symptoms, call 911 right away. Every minute counts!