Three minute read

Every year, more than one million people in the U.S. suffer from a heart attack. This means every 40 seconds someone in the US experiences congestive heart failure. Although heart disease death rates have fallen steadily for men, the rates for women have decreased only slightly.

Why is there such a discrepancy between men and women? A lot of it has to do with the variances in symptoms of heart attacks for each gender.

Difference in heart attack symptoms for men and women

Chest tightening, sweating and pain in the shoulder and arm are the most well-known symptoms of a heart attack. For years, many believed these were the only symptoms to look out for, but as we learn more about cardiovascular disease, we find that there are significant differences in how men and women experience a heart attack.

Warning signs in men

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for men. In fact, 1 in every 4 males die from a heart attack. Men also experience heart attacks earlier in life compared to women. Men exhibit the following symptoms during a heart attack:

  • Chest pain/tightening that feels like an “elephant” sitting on your chest. Also, a squeezing sensation that comes and goes or remains constant
  • Upper body pain in the arms, left shoulder, back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Rapid heartbeats
  • Indigestion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Cold sweat

Warning signs in women

Recently, studies have shown that women experience heart attacks quite differently than men. In fact, most women don’t experience classic symptoms like chest or arm pain. Surprisingly, many women experience symptoms of a heart attack more than a month before the attack occurs. Here are the symptoms women experience:

  • Unusual fatigue lasting for several days
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Anxiety
  • Lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Indigestion
  • Upper back, shoulder or throat pain
  • Jaw pain
  • Pressure or pain in the center of chest, which may spread to the arm

Women are less likely to seek treatment

According to a recent survey by the American Heart Association, only 65 percent of women said that they would seek emergency assistance if they thought they were having a heart attack. Researchers in Switzerland also found that women experiencing a heart attack will wait 37 times longer than a man before rushing to the ER.

There are two main reasons for this: women hesitate to seek help because they don’t feel they exhibit classic symptoms of a heart attack – like chest tightening and arm pain. Also, many women believe that heart disease is more of a “man’s disease,” so the idea that they could be suffering from a heart attack one does not seem plausible.

What to do if you think you’re having a heart attack

  • Call 911: Don’t ignore your symptoms. If there is no access to emergency medical services, have a friend or family member take you to the nearest hospital. Drive yourself only as a last resort.
  • Take an aspirin: Early intervention is key in limiting the damage a heart attack can cause. Aspirin works by dissolving the blood clot that blocks the heart’s artery which causes a heart attack. Make sure to chew the aspirin—since studies have shown it works fastest this way.

Schedule regular check-ups

It’s important to schedule annual check-ups with your primary care physician to stay informed about your health Women should ask their doctor about their cardiovascular risk during their annual visit. During your check-up, your physician will learn more about your medical history, assess your blood pressure and recommend health screenings based on your age.