Does a Heart Attack Affect Women Differently than Men?

Heart Attack

If you’ve ever seen a human heart, you know they all look more or less the same. However, more goes into heart health than your underlying health condition or family history. Believe it or not, there are cardiovascular differences between men’s and women's health and how particular conditions, including a heart attack, may manifest based on the sex someone is assigned at birth.

No matter your gender identity, you’ll likely find that a heart attack looks different than what you might see in television shows or feature films. By understanding your risk factors and potential medical conditions, you’ll be better able to recognize your prospective symptoms and get the proper health care should such symptoms arise. Better yet, you can make changes for even greater benefits for your heart’s health.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack in Men

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, so it’s crucial that men recognize the common symptoms of a heart attack. Most often, men will experience chest pain or discomfort while experiencing a heart attack (or if one is approaching). Many people refer to their chest pain as feeling like an elephant is sitting on their chest, and they may even mistake it for heartburn or indigestion.

A man may also experience pain in other parts of his body, such as the upper stomach, shoulders, arm, back, neck, or jaw. They may also be short of breath, potentially with coughing or wheezing, and may feel exhausted or anxious. However, it’s important to note that a heart attack can even happen with no symptoms at all! So, it’s crucial to take preventive measures when it comes to your heart health and general well-being.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack in Women

The phrase “women's health” often brings to mind nurse midwives, gynecological care, breast cancer or cervical cancer screenings, and other common women's health services. However, a woman's health is just as dependent on her heart as a man‘s would be.

Like men, women will often experience chest pain or discomfort while having or leading up to a heart attack. This will likely feel like an uncomfortable fullness, squeezing, or pressure and will last for more than a few minutes or come back after seemingly dissipating. They may also feel pain in one or both arms or in their jaw, neck, back, or stomach.

Additionally, a woman might experience shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea, and lightheadedness. In fact, while both men and women can experience these symptoms, women are likely to experience these more subtle symptoms. Other experiences, like unexplained exhaustion, pressure in the upper back, or fainting may indicate a heart attack in women, in particular.

If you suspect you may have had a heart attack, or you worry you might be at risk of one, it’s crucial that you take care of yourself and get the necessary health care for any health issues you have or risk having. Book an appointment with your primary care provider or relevant specialists to understand your unique risk level for heart disease or cardiovascular issues, and make recommended lifestyle changes to support your heart health.

Author
Arash Bereliani, M.D., M.S., F.A.C.C. Beverly Hills Institute For Cardiology & Preventive Medicine

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