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Heart Attack Symptoms: Are They Different In Men And Women?

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Male And Female Heart Attack Symtpoms

Both men and women can have well known symptoms of heart attack like cold sweats, crushing chest pains, and light headedness. But, some less well known symptoms like pain in the abdomen, neck, jaw, or back, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea are said to be more common to women. However, this doesn't mean that you should ignore them if you're a man.

You might already know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S.1 21 This is a disorder where the arteries that supply blood to your heart become narrow due to the buildup of plaque leading to reduced blood supply to your heart. If the blood supply is completely blocked or severely reduced you could have a heart attack.2 And did you know that females have a higher chance of dying if they get a heart attack than males do?3 One reason for this is that women often have less well known symptoms of a heart attack and may dismiss these signs as indicating something less threatening. Now, it’s critically important to recognize the signs of a heart attack because most treatments for clogged arteries work best within an hour after a heart attack begins. And getting emergency medical attention could mean the difference between life and death. So let’s take a look at the symptoms of a heart attack and the difference in them between males and females.

Signs That Are Common To Men And Women

Some symptoms of heart attack like chest pain are fairly well known, however, it’s important to be on the watch for more subtle signs too. And do keep in mind that if you’ve had a heart attack before, you need not necessarily experience the same symptoms if you have another attack.4 Here are some warning signs that you need to look out for:

Pressure Or Pain In The Chest

Discomfort or pain in the left side or center of your chest is the most common symptom of heart attacks. This can feel like uncomfortably heavy pressure, a squeezing sensation, or pain. It could even feel like indigestion or heart burn. This sensation usually lasts for a few minutes, or recedes and comes back.5

Cold Sweats

Breaking out into a “cold sweat” or excessive sweating is another common sign of a heart attack.6

Light Headedness

You may know that people can lose consciousness when they get a heart attack ( it’s a familiar sight in the movies), but did you know that suddenly feeling lightheaded or dizzy could be an indication that you’re having a heart attack?7

Signs That Are More Common In Females

Some signs of a heart attack are more common to women. However, this doesn’t mean that you should ignore them if you are a male.

Fatigue

A lack of energy or feeling unusually tired is a common sign of a heart attack in women – more than 50% of women who have heart attacks experience weakness or muscle tiredness which can’t be accounted for by exercise. And though this symptom may come on suddenly it can also be present for days before an attack.8

Upper Body Pain

A heart attack can cause discomfort, or pain in your back, neck, upper abdomen (above the belly button), jaw, or either one of your arms or both of them. Here’s what you need to look out for – a tightness, or ache around or in your lower jaw; a sense of discomfort in your neck or a burning or chocking sensation in your throat; heaviness, pressure, or an aching feeling around both or one of your shoulders; numbness, tingling, heaviness, or pain in one or both your arms; a dull ache between the shoulder blades. But do keep in mind that while pain in the jaw, neck, stomach, or back are more common indicators for women, pain in these areas can be common warning signs for men too.9 10 11

Shortness Of Breath

You may experience shortness of breath either before or around the same time that you experience chest pain. It could even be the only symptom you experience. So you may suddenly find that you’re struggling to breathe though you’ve haven’t engaged in any physical activity that can account for this when you have a heart attack. Again, do keep in mind that men too commonly experience shortness of breath as a symptom.12

Nausea Or Vomiting

Women are two times more likely to experience indigestion, nausea, or vomiting during a heart attack when compared to men.13

What Can You Do To Lower Your Risk?

Factors like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol levels are known to increase your risk for heart disease and controlling these is very important. Other factors like stress and depression are also associated with heart disease and need to be addressed.14 15 Here’s how you can manage your risk:

Have A Healthy Diet

A balanced diet plays an important role in keeping your heart healthy. Your diet should be rich in fruit and vegetables, lean meat, whole grains, fish and pulses and you should limit your intake of sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats.16

Exercise Regularly

Exercise can lower bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol, help to control your blood sugar, and reduce blood pressure. Getting in at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity (for instance, walking briskly, doing yard work etc) everyday can help your heart.17

Do Not Use Tobacco Products

Tobacco in all its forms can harm your health. Being exposed to second hand cigarette smoke can be dangerous too. But the good news is that your risk of a heart attack starts dropping as soon as you stop using tobacco products and can reduce by about 50% in a year.18

Try Breathing Exercises

A yogic breathing technique known as Sudarshan Kriya Yoga which involves rhythmic, cyclical breathing with slow, medium, and fast cycles can help you deal with stress as well as depression. During the slow breath cycle which is known as Ujjayior or “Victorious Breath” 2 to 4 breaths are taken per minute) while during the rapid breath cycle which is known as Bhastrikaor or “Bellows Breath” air is inhaled and forcefully exhaled at about 30 breaths per minute. A trained practitioner will be able to coach you in the technique.19

Meditate

According to research meditation can be helpful for people who are dealing with depression and anxiety. Sit comfortably, focus on your breathing, and keep your attention on the present moment without letting your mind drift into the past or future. Try to meditate for at least 20 minutes a day and do remember that regular practice can help you maximize your benefits.20

References   [ + ]

1. Gender and Heart Disease. American Heart Association.
2. Heart Attack Symptoms in Women. American Heart Association.
3, 4. Heart Health and Stroke. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 13. Make the Call. Don’t Miss a Beat. U.S.Department of Health and Human Services.
9, 12. What Are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack?. National Institutes of Health.
11. Heart attack warning signs. NATIONAL HEART FOUNDATION OF AUSTRALIA.
14. Heart disease and depression. National Institutes of Health.
15. Steptoe, Andrew, and Mika Kivimäki. “Stress and cardiovascular disease.” Nature Reviews Cardiology 9, no. 6 (2012): 360-370.
16. What can I do to avoid a heart attack or a stroke?. World Health Organization.
17. Exercise and Cardiovascular Health. American Heart Association.
18. What can I do to avoid a heart attack or a stroke?. World Health Organization.
19. Brown, Richard P., and Patricia L. Gerbarg. “Sudarshan Kriya yogic breathing in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression: part I-neurophysiologic model.” Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine 11, no. 1 (2005): 189-201.
20. Six relaxation techniques to reduce stress. Harvard Health Publications.
21. Men and Heart Disease Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.