Heart Attack Symptoms: Men vs. Women
From cold sweats and extreme fatigue to neck and back pain, heart attack symptoms can sometimes appear differently in men and women.
A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart becomes blocked or impeded. According to the American Heart Association, the most common general warning signs of a heart attack are chest discomfort, shortness of breath, cold sweats, extreme fatigue, and discomfort in the upper body. While both men and women may experience these symptoms during a myocardial infarction (heart attack), there are some differences between the sexes that are important to recognize.
Males and Heart Attacks
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States, and roughly 89% of all sudden heart attacks occur in men. On average, men experience heart attacks earlier in life than women do – the average age for a first-time heart attack in men is 64, while for women the average age for a first-time event is 72.
Signs and symptoms of a heart attack for males include an unpleasant or uncomfortable pressure or fullness in the chest area, as well as shortness of breath which may or may not be accompanied by chest pain. Changes in the extremities such as pain, tingling, numbness, coldness and weakness in the arms and legs are other common signs of a heart event.
Smoking, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are all major heart disease risk factors, while patients who have a history of heart disease in their families are at a more severe risk. It’s important to note that 50% of men who die suddenly from a coronary event have demonstrated no prior symptoms of heart disease. Make sure to discuss any potential risk factors with your doctor and visit a cardiologist if you have a family history of heart trouble.
Females and Heart Attacks
Similarly to men, heart disease is the leading cause of death in women in the United States. Roughly one in 6 women over the age of 20 have coronary heart disease, and two-thirds of women who die suddenly from coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms. These are just a few of the reasons why it is important to understand the different ways that heart attacks manifest themselves between the genders.
Women who are undergoing a heart attack may experience nausea and vomiting, as well as neck, jaw, and throat pain. Pain radiating from the upper abdomen or the back are other symptoms that something may be wrong. These symptoms may appear at both times of rest and times of activity, and the longer the patient goes without treatment the worse the damage can be. Women and men should have their blood pressure and cholesterol numbers checked on a regular basis and should also discuss any potential risk factors with their doctor or cardiologist.
How To Reduce Your Risk
The good news for both men and women is there are certain controllable steps everyone can take to manage their risk of heart disease. Up to 80% percent of heart attacks can be prevented by controlling modifiable risk factors. The primary ways that patients can control their heart health include:
- Quitting smoking.
- Getting regular exercise – aim for at least 30 minutes of activity each day.
- Eating heart-healthy foods like lean meats and whole grains and managing cholesterol levels.
- Reducing stress wherever it is possible.
- Limiting alcohol intake which can damage the heart.
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
How Healthy Is Your Heart? Learn more at Ochsner.org/HeartMonth
Editor's note: This blog was originally posted on Feb. 21, 2017 and has since been updated.