Early Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

Women can experience symptoms months before a heart attack actually occurs.

Many of us have experienced that moment. Perhaps we’re driving in traffic or working out at the gym when we feel a twinge in the chest, or an aggressive pulse. Or maybe we just don’t feel right. We might pause at these moments and wonder if the hearts are okay. Truth is, both men and women may notice subtle heart symptoms months before an actual heart attack occurs. And that reality can leave us wondering when it’s time to hightail it the doctor  and when it’s time to relax.

A woman may or may not have the classic symptom of a heart attack  crushing pain that feels like an elephant sitting on your chest. Often, there’s no chest pain at all, but more subtle symptoms that women, and even doctors, tend to overlook. Why should you learn the symptoms of a heart attack? Because 90 percent of women have one or more heart disease risk factors.

Chest pain

Chest pain may seem like an obvious symptom of heart attack, but in reality symptoms are much more subtle and easy to ignore. We’ve all seen Hollywood heart attacks involving dramatic chest-clutching and sudden collapse, but for women, symptoms can be anything from discomfort that feels like bad indigestion to pain in the arm to breathlessness. Before you learn about the symptoms, it’s important to erase assumptions that a heart attack is always a chest-pounding, keeling-over movie melodrama.

Dizziness or nausea

Women often feel like they’re going to pass out or throw up during a heart attack due to decreased blood flow to the brain. Pay attention to these symptoms, especially when they’re combined with shortness of breath, a cold sweat, rapid headache and blurry vision.

Unusual fatigue

More than 70 percent of women reported extreme fatigue and flu-like symptoms in the month or months prior to their heart attacks. If you feel like you have zero energy, to the point where it’s difficult to get out of bed and go about your day, get yourself checked out. Extreme fatigue might mean your heart isn’t pumping enough blood.

Check your skin tone

Some women may take on a gray pallor before or while having a heart attack. If your complexion is suddenly dull, call a doctor before you dial the esthetician. Cold and clammy skin or appearing severely ill can be another sign. 

Shortness of breath

Nausea, or lightheadedness. If you’re having trouble breathing for no apparent reason, you could be having a heart attack, especially if you’re also having one or more other symptoms. “It can feel like you have run a marathon, but you didn’t make a move,” Goldberg says.

Sleep problems

Everyone experiences problems sleeping now and then because of stress, but chronic trouble sleeping might be caused by more than everyday exertion. If you’ve noticed unusual or prolonged disturbances in your regular sleep patterns, it’s smart to visit your doctor. The NIH study showed almost half of women who recently had a heart attack had sleep disturbances or unexplained insomnia in the days or weeks before the attack.