Heart attack symptoms, response differ in women vs. men

AHA_heartstatementA woman’s heart attack can have different underlying causes, symptoms and outcomes compared to men, according to a new scientific statement released last week by the American Heart Association.

The new statement from the American Heart Association is its first to address heart attacks in women, and the organization is concerned women are being undertreated.

It notes that there have been dramatic declines in cardiovascular deaths among women due to improved treatment and prevention of heart disease as well as increased public awareness.

However, heart disease remains the #1 killer of women in the U.S. Most people associate heart problems with chest pain that radiates to the jaw or arm. However, symptoms of a heart attack in women may be different and can include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Indigestion or nausea
  • Pain in the jaw or upper back

The American Heart Association noted that another problematic finding, perhaps because of these different symptoms, was that women wait longer to get treated – the median delay is about 54 hours in women and 16 hours in men.

If you experience these symptoms — especially if you have risk factors for coronary artery disease such as high blood pressure or diabetes — seek medical attention. Although signs and symptoms of heart disease may differ in women, the basics of prevention are the same, regardless of gender: Eat healthy, don’t smoke, exercise regularly and consult with your doctor about your cholesterol.

To learn more about symptoms, risk factors and prevention techniques that are specific to women, consider my upcoming lecture on women and heart disease on February 16. Find more information and register for the event here.

And don’t forget to wear red this Friday for National Wear Red Day, a national day of action dedicated to raising awareness about heart disease being the #1 killer of women.


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Dr. Shimoli Shah is a cardiologist at the Knight Cardiovascular Institute. She sees patients at the Beaverton Cardiology Clinic and the Center for Women’s Health. Dr. Shah specializes in heart disease in women.