More younger women experiencing heart attacks know seven signs

February 15, 2022

Seven warning signs of a heart attack just for women.

Paducah, KY (Jan. 31, 2022) - The script has been flipped when it comes to heart attacks, according to a recent observational study that showed heart attacks have decreased among older adults, but have risen among those ages 35-54, especially women.

The study of some 28,000 patients in four U.S. cities doesn’t provide insight into why more younger women are experiencing heart attacks. However, it did note that more women than men in the study had hypertension (high blood pressure) or diabetes.

“Although they may outwardly appear healthy, almost half of adults over age 20 have elevated or high blood pressure,” said Martin Rains, MD, a cardiologist with the Baptist Health Medical Group in Paducah. “Having high levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol or being overweight can play a role in developing diabetes. Both high blood pressure and high cholesterol – along with smoking – are three major heart attack risk factors.”

Heart disease is equal opportunity – it’s the leading cause of death for both men and women. Men’s heart attack symptoms are typically chest pain and pressure along with breaking out in a cold sweat and dizziness. Women’s symptoms tend to be different from men, and oftentimes more subtle.

“Pay attention when your body is signaling that there’s something wrong and you need medical attention,” said Dr. Rains. “Don’t doubt yourself. If you feel something, you know better than anyone else knows.”

Seven warning signs of a heart attack – just for women

Women of all ages may be slow to recognize signs of a heart attack because their symptoms are different than men. To prevent a heart attack from sneaking up on you, watch for these subtle signs and discuss them with your doctor if noticed: 

  • Fatigue. More than 70% of women reported extreme fatigue in the month or months prior to their heart attacks. This was an overwhelming fatigue that sidelined them from their usual schedules for a few days at a time.
  • Sleeplessness or insomnia. Despite their fatigue, women who’ve had heart attacks remember not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep during the month before their heart attacks.
  • Anxiety and stress. Stress is a known factor in heart attack risk. But what women report is the emotional experience; before their heart attacks they felt anxious, stressed and keyed up.
  • Indigestion or nausea. Stomach pain, intestinal cramps, nausea, and digestive disruptions are another sign reported by female heart attack patients. Become familiar with your digestive habits, and pay attention when anything seems strange.
  • Shortness of breath. Difficulty breathing is a good reason to call 911, whether or not it indicates a heart attack.
  • Flu-like symptoms. Clammy, sweaty skin, along with feeling lightheaded and weak, can lead women to wonder if they have the flu when, in fact, they’re having a heart attack.
  • Jaw, ear, neck or shoulder pain. While pain and numbness in the chest, shoulder, and arm is a common sign of a heart attack (at least, among men), women often don’t experience the pain this way. Instead, many women say they felt pain and a sensation of tightness running along their jaw and down the neck, and sometimes up to the ear, as well. The pain may extend down to the shoulder and arm – particularly on the left side – or it may feel like a backache or a pulled muscle in the neck and back.

Learn more about your heart health with a quick heart health risk assessment to compare your actual age to your heart’s biological age, as well as calculate your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.