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Signs of a Heart Attack

You may think you know the signs of a heart attack, but the symptoms in men and women can vary drastically.

Heart Attack

You may think you know the signs of a heart attack, but the symptoms in men and women can vary drastically. For Heart Month, we’re exploring all of the warning signs.

While men and women share a number of heart attack symptoms, there are a few outliers that only plague a certain gender. Some of the common symptoms that occur in both men and women are:

  • Chest pain/discomfort – uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain
  • Pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck or arms
  • Palpitations – sensation that your heart is skipping a beat or beating too rapidly
  • Difficult or labored breathing
  • Stomach discomfort that feels like indigestion
  • Nausea/vomiting


Males are more likely to experience the common symptoms associated with heart attacks. A man’s risk for heart attack increases significantly after the age of 45. Some additional symptoms that can be present for men are:

  • Dizziness or feeling like you’re going to pass out
  • Weakness
  • Cold sweat


Females may experience similar symptoms, but they often exhibit far less intense but still very dangerous signs of a heart attack. For that reason, women are at a much higher risk of being unaware that a heart attack is occurring and confusing the combination of symptoms with something else. Studies have shown that women who have had a heart attack often do NOT experience chest pain. Since chest pain is often pegged as the top symptom of a heart attack, it’s difficult for women to know what’s happening to them. Heart attack symptoms experienced by women can include:

  • Unusual fatigue
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Flu-like discomfort
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Back or jaw pain


Another major difference between men and women is how long and intensely they experience heart attack symptoms. Men’s symptoms are usually very sudden and severe. On the other hand, women report experiencing their symptoms as long as a month before the heart attack occurred. This is why it’s so important for women to recognize the less intense symptoms they experience.

It’s essential that both men and women know ALL of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and don’t ignore them. If you think may be experiencing a heart attack, call 9-1-1 right away.

The Iowa Clinic Cardiology Department | 515.875.9090

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