Are the symptoms suffered by women having heart attacks different than those affecting men?
Blair Erb, MD answered:
The classical symptom of a heart attack is chest discomfort that is typically diffuse and described as a pressure, tightness, burning or indigestion-like sensation. There may be radiation of the discomfort to the throat, jaw, either arm, or the back. It may be accompanied by sweating, nausea, shortness of breath or dizziness. These symptoms, as with many of the historical observations in medicine, are the symptoms commonly found in men. For many years it was assumed women would have similar symptoms. In fact, the symptoms of a heart attack or angina (the discomfort resulting from blockages that limit blood flow to the heart) may be much more vague and subtle in women. Ninety-five percent of women will have some vague warning symptoms in the month prior to a heart attack. These symptoms may include fatigue, shortness of breath, sleep
disturbance, indigestion or anxiety. At the time of the actual heart attack common symptoms in women include shortness of breath, weakness, fatigue, cold sweats, and dizziness. When true discomfort is present, it may be localized to the upper abdomen or may occur only in the mid back.
It is important for women to be aware of these differences because another common mis-perception is that coronary artery disease (CAD) is more prevalent in men. Nothing could be further from the truth. Between 40% and 50% of all female deaths each year are due to CAD. In the year 2000, 505,000 women died from cardiovascular diseases as opposed to 440,000 men. In addition, the death rate from a heart attack is higher in women than in men. These facts make it imperative that women know their risk factors for heart disease and the common symptoms associated therewith.