Cedars-Sinai Blog

Common Heart Attack Symptoms Women May Not Recognize

Every year, about 435,000 women in the US have heart attacks, which kill 6 times more women than breast cancer. Of these women, 71% experience early warning signs like extreme fatigue, but many don't recognize their symptoms as signs of a heart attack.

When you imagine a heart attack, you might picture what you see in the movies: a man clutching his chest in pain, followed by the discovery of a big clot in an artery on a EKG.

"Two-thirds of men experience the typical Hollywood heart attack with chest pain, while only one-third of women do," says Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz, medical director of the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai.

The symptoms are subtler for women, and sometimes are overlooked both by the patient and the physician. These include indigestion, shortness of breath, and extreme fatigue. Often, these symptoms will be attributed incorrectly to heartburn, overeating, stress, or musculoskeletal pain.

Ignoring these symptoms can be extremely dangerous. "Delay in diagnosis and treatment of a heart attack can result in death," says Dr. Bairey Merz.

Use this chart to help you recognize common heart attack symptoms in women:

Prevention is everyone's responsibility. "Get heart-checked," Dr. Bairey Merz says. "This is where a physician will look at risk factors to determine whether you should take medication daily to reduce your risk."

While some risk factors for a heart attack can't be changed, like age and race, some can—like smoking, cholesterol levels, inactivity, and high blood pressure. Take control of your heart health today to lower your chances of heart problems in the future.