Warning Signs of a Heart Attack for Women

Movies portray the symptoms of a heart attack with someone clutching his chest or left arm and then falling to the ground. As truthful as that picture sometimes is for a man, it is much less descriptive of the warning signs of a heart attack in women. Women’s heart attack symptoms can be deceptively subtle, and the first report of the heart attack may come months after it occurred, as a result of annual lab tests.

Chest Pain

The most typical warning sign of a heart attack, chest pain, occurs in both men and women. Women, however, tend to dismiss chest pain as anything but a heart attack, and delayed treatment increases women’s mortality and morbidity rates, according to Marilyn Sawyer Sommers and Susan A. Johnson in the book “Diseases and Disorders.” Chest pain in a woman may radiate to the mid-back between the shoulder blades, similar to the feeling of a pinched nerve. Instead of seeking medical advice, women often apply heating pads to the area and take an over-the-counter analgesic, as they believe they have simply lifted something the wrong way. This chest pain can travel up the side of the neck to the jaw and mimic muscle tension. Pain in any of these areas lasting longer than 5 minutes is a warning sign of a possible heart attack that needs medical evaluation and lab tests.

Nausea and Vomiting

The warning signs of a woman’s heart attack can manifest as nausea and vomiting, symptoms common to many non-life-threatening illnesses. A woman may believe she caught a stomach virus or that she contracted food poisoning. Sudden nausea and vomiting–without a trigger of food or malaise–could be serious, especially if accompanied by sweating or a feeling of heartburn.

Shortness of Breath

One of the most common warning signs of a heart attack in a woman, shortness of breath, should signal an immediate need to seek medical attention. A woman may feel dizzy and lightheaded as well, and chest pain may accompany the shortness of breath. Do not attempt to drive to the doctor’s office or hospital when shortness of breath occurs. The symptoms could rapidly change to something more serious, and emergency medical personnel are equipped with the proper supplies in case that should happen.

About this Author

Gloria Attar is a registered nurse specializing in cardiac critical care. She has been a professional writer since 1983, covering health care, wellness and nutrition topics. Attar earned her Bachelor of Science in nursing from Kent State University.