Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

Dr. Larry Weinrauch Health Pro
  • For years we have been taught the warning signs of a heart attack and what we are now learning is that these are great for men. Will someone do an article about how women's symptoms are very different and often overlooked by doctors?


    This is an excellent and very current question that has not been well studied, although there has been much talk about the subject for years. From a historical perspective it is our society’s fault. The societal fault is complex.


    I still run into the "politically correct" police at times, and last year actually got told that the name of a lecture that I was giving, “Women are not just little men when it comes to heart disease,” was inappropriate. Somehow, someone thought that discussing the differences between men and women was “sexist” in some manner. We have to get over some silly ideas.

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    Our country has been among the slowest to advance to the point that as many women as men became doctors. Likewise, we “protected” women from being in clinical trials out of concern for possible pregnancies, and in so doing, never really did the necessary studies.


    Medicine has advanced enormously since the 1950s with the development of clinical trials and many new drugs. The first trials were what are called observational (like the Framingham study among others that taught us that high blood pressure and high cholesterol could cause early death). These trials were followed by treatment trials to control blood pressure.


    As new drugs became available, they were tried on mostly males (especially in VA populations). Thus, most of the data that we had on things like heart attacks and strokes was garnished from a mostly male population, and it was assumed that women would be the same.


    Evidence however is now available that there may in fact be differences. These differences have always interested me, as women live longer than men, but when they get certain types of heart diseases (an average of three years older than men when they have problems), they don’t respond to treatments as well.


    Although women are nine times more likely to die from CVD than they are from breast cancer, there is a general public belief that the most common cause of death is cancer. So it is important that we put some effort into study of the differences.


    Some heart attack warning signs for women. Very few pre menopausal women have heart attacks, unless they smoke, have diabetes, or are on birth control pills for a long period of time. Smoking seems to be the biggest risk factor:

    • Nausea and vomiting that won’t stop
    • Breathlessness (but not sighing) with exertion or especially if it wakes you up at night
    • Chest discomfort that starts behind the breast bone and radiates to either shoulder or arm neck, or to the lower (but not upper) jaw
    • Discomfort in the lower jaw especially if it occurs only with exertion or will not go away
    • Discomfort in the upper back especially if it occurs only with exertion or will not go away
    • Discomfort in the chest or back that occurs when doing usual chores after a large meal
    • Sudden onset of weakness that won’t go away
    • Sudden racing heart sensation with a very fast pulse
    • Sudden loss of consciousness
    • Physical inability to perform usual household chores


  • Who is most at risk with these symptoms? The more of these factors that apply to you, the greater your risk:

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Published On: June 04, 2007