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Heart attack symptoms for women

Around 65,000 women suffer a heart attack every year in the UK. Heart disease kills three times more women than breast cancer and is the single largest cause of death among women in the UK. Most deaths from heart disease are caused by heart attacks.

Women and heart attacks research

A 2012 study, presented at the Acute Cardiovascular Care Association’s annual meeting, found that women are more likely to die from heart attacks than men, regardless of risk factors.

The British Heart Foundation cites a recent survey which found that 69% of women need to experience at least three symptoms of a heart attack before seeking medical help.

To compound matters, US research suggests that one of the best known symptoms of a heart attack - chest pain - may not be experienced by women. The study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that women - especially under 55 - can have a heart attack without the typical chest pain or discomfort. Instead, many experience vague or even “silent” symptoms that they may miss. Studies also suggest symptoms don’t feel the same in woman as they do for men.

All of the above can contribute to a 'perfect storm' scenario for women who are at risk of a heart attack.

Symptoms women should watch out for during a heart attack:

Chest pain or discomfort

Pain in the chest is the most common heart attack symptom, but this is not always present. Pain may be felt anywhere in the chest - not just the left hand side - and it may feel more like a very uncomfortable sensation of pressure or squeezing. Some patients compare it to being squeezed tightly in a vice.

Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, upper back, neck or jaw

These symptoms are experienced more often in women. As the pain is not in the chest, many women dismiss what is happening and attribute it to something else, such as muscle strain. The pain can develop slowly or suddenly, and may come and go, before increasing in intensity. You may be woken up by it if you are sleeping. If you experience any unusual symptoms like these affecting the upper body, seek medical help.

Stomach pain

During a heart attack, some women experience abdominal pressure, as if something heavy is pressing on their stomach. Some mistake heart attack symptoms for other ailments, such as stomach upset or heartburn. Again, seek medical help if in doubt.

Dizziness, shortness of breath or nausea

Some women describe being lightheaded or having trouble breathing for no obvious reason. If you're having one or more of these symptoms it may be a heart attack.


Women who are having a heart attack often describe feeling clammy or breaking out in a cold sweat. This can be confused with stress, hot flushes or getting too hot. If the sweating is more than usual or is accompanied by other symptoms, seek medical help.

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