Heart Attacks Present Differently in Women. Here Are Signs To Look For.

by HAC Personal Trainer Rachel Evans

Most adults are taught to identify a heart attack by these “telltale” signs:

  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • pain in your arm and/or shoulders

However, most adults aren’t aware that heart attacks may present differently in women. Considering the United States is currently dealing with extremely high and deadly levels of heart disease, it is helpful for the roughly 51.1% female population to be educated on identifying heart attack symptoms they might encounter.

While women can experience the same heart attack symptoms as men, they may also experience their own list of symptoms, including:

  • Stomach pain
  • Pain in between shoulder blades (upper back)
  • Flu-like symptoms such as nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating, fainting
  • Unusual fatigue

These symptoms can persist for several days, can worsen or improve, and can easily be unnoticed or dismissed.

Heart disease is commonly diagnosed much later in women, and heart attacks aren’t as easily identified. This could be because the symptoms that have been stressed to the general public are symptoms typically found in men. It could also be because some studies have found women to be dismissed by medical professionals regarding pain or discomfort more often than men. One 2016 study from the University of Leeds found that approximately 30 percent of women who were eventually diagnosed with a full or partial arterial blockage received a different diagnosis first (1).

The first step to solving this problem regarding heart health/heart attacks is ensuring women can identify their own symptoms. Then, women need to be able to advocate for themselves or have access to someone who can help them advocate for their health concerns.

The overall goal for each individual should be to participate in healthy behaviors that promote heart health and prevent heart disease/attack.

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All adults can decrease their risk for cardiovascular disease by:

  • Completing a MINIMUM of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity. Doing more is almost always advantageous.
  • Eat healthy, avoid foods high in fat, and avoid eating too many or too few calories daily.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Improve sleep habits.
  • Monitor your blood pressure.
  • Attend yearly / preventative doctor appointments.

Ultimately, a healthy heart and lifestyle are best implemented in childhood. Here’s how you can help your child develop healthy habits that last a lifetime:

  • Accumulate a total of 60 minutes of physical activity every day. This can be a combination of moderate and vigorous intensity and can be broken up throughout the day. Physical activity should be age-appropriate. Younger children should be encouraged to participate in a play-orientated activity that is fun and engaging. Older children can start participating in more structured physical activity, exercise, and sports.
  • Be the example. If you have kids in your life, let them see you consistently engage in healthy habits for health reasons.
  • Replace the “clear your plate” mentality with teaching kids to recognize when they are hungry and full. Eat when hungry, stop when full.
  • Education across the board is important. Teach your kids why it’s important to eat well. Teach them about balance – it’s not wrong to eat cake sometimes, and it’s not good to have a restrictive attitude toward food. Teach your kids why exercise and moving your body is important for heart and muscle health, mental health, brain development, and focus.
  • Heart disease (including heart attacks) is the number one cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women. It should be a priority that our entire population, not just half of it, know the different symptoms they may experience. We should also emphasize how this disease and its deaths can be largely managed, reversed, and prevented through healthy eating and exercise.


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