Wisdom Upended: Heart Attack Warning Signs for Women
We all grew up knowing the classic warning signs of a heart attack: tightness, pressure or squeezing in the chest, dizziness, sweating, pain radiating down the left arm. But that template was developed by centuries of science focused on male patients. Recent studies have found that in women, the warning signs may be markedly different — so different that they’re often missed by both doctors and women alike.
In women, warning signs can include unusual fatigue, shortness of breath, sleep disturbances, jaw/neck pain, shoulder pain, abdominal pain or heartburn, nausea or vomiting, lightheadedness or dizziness, sweating, and weakness in the arms —- and any or all may happen without chest pain. While chest pain is still considered the most important warning sign in both men and women, less than 30 percent of women in an NIH study felt chest pain before they had a heart attack, and 43 percent had no chest pain at any time during the attack. The timing may be different, too: While some women do experience sudden-onset pain and pressure, in other women less obvious symptoms can persist for up to a month before an attack, and many women delay seeing their doctors about those subtler symptoms. So, listen to your body, know the signs, and don’t dismiss them, even if they "could be anything"—your life may depend on it.