Myocardial infarction (also commonly known as heart attack) can have different symptoms in women than in men.
Women do not always have the same classic symptoms of a heart attack that men have, such as a crushing chest pain that radiates into one arm. These “classic” heart attack symptoms can certainly happen in women as well, but many experience vague or even “silent” symptoms that they may overlook.
What the symptoms of a heart attack look like in women
In recent decades, scientists have realized that the symptoms of myocardial infarction can be quite different in women when compared to men. In 2003, the journal Circulation published the findings of a large study of 515 women who had experienced a heart attack.
The most reported symptoms did not include chest pain. Instead, the women reported unusual fatigue, sleep disturbances and anxiety. Nearly 80% of the women admitted to experiencing at least one symptom more than a month before the heart attack occurred.
The list of symptoms of a heart attack in women includes:
- unusual feeling of tiredness, lasting for several days or sudden and severe fatigue;
- sleep disturbances (sleep disruption, for example);
- dizziness (vertigo);
- difficulty breathing;
- indigestion or a pain similar to a build-up of intestinal gas;
- upper back pain, shoulder pain or neck pain;
- jaw pain or pain that spreads to the jaw area;
- pressure or pain in the center of the chest that may spread to the arm.
In a 2012 survey published in the journal Circulation, only 65% of women said they would call emergency medical services if they thought they might suffer a heart attack. Even if you are not sure whether you are having a heart attack, it is important to receive medical care right away. Base your decision on what seems normal or abnormal to you. If you have never experienced these symptoms before, do not hesitate to ask for help and call 112. If you do not agree with your doctor’s conclusion, get a second opinion from another specialist.
Myocardial infarction in women over 50
Women go through significant physical changes around the age of 50, when menopause sets in. At this time of life, estrogen levels drop. This hormone is thought to help protect the heart, and after menopause, the risk of heart attack increases.
There are additional symptoms of a heart attack that women in their 50s may experience. These symptoms are:
- severe chest pain;
- pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach area;
- a fast or irregular heartbeat;
It is important to be aware of these symptoms and to schedule regular check-ups with your doctor.