Women's Cardiac Center
Lifespan Cardiovascular Institute

What Are Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack in Women?

Heart attack symptoms in women are more subtle than those in men. In fact, almost two-thirds of women who die unexpectedly from cardiovascular diseases have experienced no symptoms.

Because of the subtle or sometimes nonexistent symptoms of a heart attack in women, these patients are less likely to seek care at the emergency department. Don’t let embarrassment about a potential false alarm keep you from getting life-saving treatment. 

Woman exhibiting signs of a heart attack

Signs vs. Symptoms

What’s the difference between “signs” and “symptoms?"

• Signs are objective indications of illness that the patient or others can observe, such as shortness of breath or vomiting.

• Symptoms — nausea or a feeling of pressure in the chest, for example — can only be reported by the person experiencing them.

What Are the Early Warning Signs of a Heart Attack in Women?

Women may observe these warning signs of a heart attack:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat

What Are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack in Women?

Heart attack symptoms in women include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort such as a feeling of pressure, squeezing, or fullness that lasts more than a few minutes, or stops and then comes back
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion or nausea
  • Upper back, neck, or jaw pain
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms

Men and women have many heart attack symptoms in common, but women are more likely to experience back or jaw pain, nausea and vomiting, and breathing difficulties. 

Symptoms may start slowly and worsen over hours, days, or weeks before a heart attack.

If you have any of these symptoms, call 911 right away.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Coronary Heart Disease in Women?

Coronary heart disease (CHD) arises when the coronary arteries, which supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart, become narrowed by deposits of cholesterol. Symptoms of diseased or damaged coronary arteries may include:

  • Angina: chest pain or discomfort
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen, or back
  • Arrhythmia: a feeling of “fluttering” or palpitations
  • Heart failure: shortness of breath; fatigue; swelling of feet, ankles, legs, and abdomen

A complete blockage of a coronary artery may trigger a heart attack.

Heart disease is the Number 1 killer of women, which is why it’s vital that women learn the warning signs and symptoms, see their physician regularly, and know their family history.

Meet the team at the Women's Cardiac Center