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Women’s hearts and arteries are smaller than men’s and their hearts beat faster, even at rest. Men and women also feel differently when something is wrong with their heart.
Heart attack symptoms in women can be more subtle, so unfortunately women often delay seeking treatment. As a result, they are not always properly diagnosed or treated for heart attacks or the cardiovascular conditions and risk factors that cause them.
As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
These symptoms are more subtle than the obvious crushing chest pain typically associated with heart attacks. This may be because women tend to have blockages not only in their main arteries, but also in the smaller arteries that supply blood to the heart.
This condition is called small vessel heart disease or microvascular disease. Women often mistake the warning signs of a heart attack for a more common, less life-threatening ailment like acid reflux, the flu or normal changes with age.
Often, female heart attack patients arrive in emergency rooms after much damage has already occurred to their heart. This is because their symptoms are not those typically associated with a heart attack. Most heart attacks begin with mild symptoms. Call 911 immediately if symptoms persist. Getting treatment quickly minimizes damage to your heart and improves your chances of survival.
If you think you’re at risk for cardiovascular disease, take our online heart health assessment. Or to find a cardiology specialist near you, use our Find a Doctor tool.