9 signs you’re having a heart attack that you probably don’t know, including those more likely to affect women
Rachel Hosie – September 2, 2022
- The most common symptom of a heart attack for both men and women is chest pain.
- However, women are more likely to experience additional symptoms, a new report states.
- These include nausea, indigestion, shortness of breath, and palpitations, a cardiologist said.
Common and lesser-known heart attack symptoms, including those more likely to affect women, have been highlighted in a report by the American Heart Association (AHA).
The review, published in the journal Circulation, outlines the latest knowledge on the symptoms of cardiovascular diseases, including strokes and heart failure, as Insider’s Catherine Schuster-Bruce reported.
A heart attack is when the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot, and can be life-threatening.
In the US, about 805,000 people have a heart attack every year, with one happening every 40 seconds, according to the CDC. One in five people are unaware they’re having a heart attack, the organization states. However, knowing the signs can help people get treatment faster.
Chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack
Chest pain is the most common and recognizable symptom of a heart attack, according to the review, and is often felt as pressure or discomfort behind or below the sternum (breastbone), and may radiate to the jaw, shoulder, arm, or upper back.
Other co-occuring symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, unusual sweating, nausea, and lightheadedness.
Some people have muscle aches during a heart attack
Although chest pain is “the most common presenting sign,” some people experience other pain, Dr. Stacey Rosen, cardiologist and senior vice president for the Katz Institute for Women’s Health at Northwell Health, told Insider.
Less common symptoms of a heart attack include muscle aches around the back and shoulders, indigestion or heartburn, fainting spells, and confusion, Rosen said.
According to a review of seven studies cited in the report on the early stages of acute coronary syndrome — which is a group of conditions that heart attacks fall under — early symptoms also include disturbed sleep, headaches, anxiety, and gastrointestinal problems.
Women are more likely to experience symptoms other than chest pain, such as nausea
There are differences in how men and women experience heart attacks.
“Historically, it was believed that women do not experience chest pain in the setting of a heart attack but we now know that this is the most common symptom for men and women, but that women are more likely to have additional symptoms,” Rosen said.
Symptoms more common to women include nausea, back and shoulder pain, indigestion, shortness of breath, fatigue, and palpitations, she said.
One study cited in the review found that younger women who had heart attacks were more likely to have three or more symptoms including pain below the ribs, palpitations, and pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, arms or shoulders when compared with men.