His and Hers: Heart Attack Symptoms

Knowing common warning signs can save your life

Half of all heart attack victims wait more than two hours to seek help. Maybe we delay to save false-alarm embarrassment. Then again, maybe we delay because symptoms can be tricky to spot—especially in women.

“Movies have shown the typical crushing chest pain, red in the face, falling-to-the-ground type symptoms,” says Kathy E. Magliato, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon and a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association. But heart attacks don’t just afflict men. And they don’t always trigger “typical” symptoms.

“Every year since 1984 more women have died from heart disease than men, yet most women think this is a man’s disease,” Magliato says.

It’s time to learn the signs in both sexes. Here’s an at-a-glance guide.

Mainly Male
Profuse sweating: Sudden, profuse sweating signals that the sympathetic system is in full fight-or-flight mode.

Extreme dizziness: When men report dizziness, it’s almost to the point of passing out.

Middle Ground
Chest discomfort: The majority of men experience chest pressure, squeezing or pain; fewer than half of women do. “Cardiac pain is a continual ‘pressure’ pain,” Magliato says. It can masquerade as heartburn.

Shortness of breath: Both sexes can experience a sudden struggle to breathe, although it is more common in women.

Upper body discomfort: Discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach can signal a heart attack. Women often describe a squeezing feeling.

Frequently Female
Unusual fatigue: Persistent, flu-like fatigue is common in women during a heart attack and even months before one occurs.

Cold sweats, lightheadedness, and nausea or vomiting: These should send alarm bells off.


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