From our friends at ACLS Medical Training, the 10 most common signs of a heart attack in women and why it's important!

Signs of a Heart Attack in women

Women’s heart health should be on women’s minds every day, not just during February.  Spreading the word on how heart health differs between men and women creates awareness that hopefully empowers women to understand their own heart health and take appropriate action if facing it. For example, signs of a heart attack in women are different than in men.

The ‘Hollywood’ heart attack –where a sharp pain in the left arm and shortness of breath perhaps exemplify what a heart attack looks like — couldn’t be farther from the truth.  The fact is women have heart attacks in a totally different manner that may or may not include the symptoms we are so used to seeing.

According to the information provided by ACLS Medical Training, while men generally exhibit the typical symptoms of chest pressure and pain, women generally exhibit symptoms that are not well-known, leading them to delay seeking treatment.  Women who are having a heart attack often feel pain in areas outside the chest, including the jaw, neck, abdomen, legs, and arms. Severe fatigue, sweating, or shortness of breath can also be present, leading women to feel as if they just ran a marathon even though they are standing still. Many women who have had heart attacks also mistake the chest pain for heartburn, indigestion, or a stomach ulcer.  A quick response can make all the difference in this situation.  The full article can be found here.

“A principal problem in women’s health today is a ‘one-size- fits-all’ approach.  Even if it seems that our bodies function the same way mechanically – for example the heart or the brain- you’d be surprised how important gender differences are in the prevention, effective diagnosis and treatment of illness in today’s world.  Heart disease represents a perfect example in that women often have different symptoms, they may be treated less rigorously than men with the same risk factors and they have a poorer outcome than men following cardiac surgery” comments Carole Banka, Associate Project Scientist in the Department of Medicine at the UCSD School of Medicine and current Chair for the Doris A. Howell Foundation.

Supporting awareness campaigns is a key element in managing and reducing the risks of heart disease in women.  According to the American Heart Association:

  •  Nearly 90% of women has made at least one healthy behavior change.
  • More than one-third of women have lost weight.
  • More than 50% of women have increased their exercise.
  • 6 out of 10 women have changed their diets.
  • More than 40% of women have checked their cholesterol levels.
  • One third of women has talked with their doctors about developing heart health plans.
  • Today, nearly 300 fewer women die from heart disease and stroke each day.
  • Death in women has decreased by more than 30 percent over the past 10 years.

Even though the news is encouraging, there is still much to be done.  So let’s beat the statistics! Simple and easy lifestyle choices may decrease our risk for heart disease.  Some recommendations include:

  • Listen to what your mother used to tell you:  eat your fruits and vegetables!  A good nutrition is the first front of defense when talking about heart health.
  • Avoid or learn how to manage stress.  Research has shown time and time again that leading a stressful life is detrimental to your health.  A simple meditation and relaxing way to meditate and relieve stress can be found in our article on relational wellness.
  • If you smoke, DON’T.
  • Exercise.  It takes care of three of the crucial elements of preventing heart health.  Research has shown that engaging in 3 to 4 sessions of exercise a week helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and helps keep your weight at a healthy level.
  • Have a heart-to-heart conversation with your doctor –pun intended!

The American Heart Association offers an abundant list of resources to prevent heart disease here.


About the Doris A. Howell Foundation:

The Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research is committed to keeping the women we love healthy, advancing women’s health through research and educating women to be catalysts for improving family health in the community.

The organization does so by funding scholarships to scientists researching issues affecting women’s health;   providing a forum for medical experts, scientists, doctors, researchers, and authors to convey the timely information on topics relevant to women’s health and the health of their families through its Lecture and Evening Series, and by funding research initiatives that will create women’s health awareness and advocacy in the community.    

For more information about the Doris A. Howell Foundation, please visit



American Heart Association
ACLS Medical Training 

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