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Heart Disease Health Center

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Do You Know Which Symptoms Signal a Heart Attack in Women?

Women’s heart attacks can be different than men’s. Learn the warning signs.

Assert yourself if you have heart attack symptoms

Unfortunately, doctors may also be unfamiliar with atypical symptoms and may overlook a woman’s heart attack, experts tell WebMD. In fact, according to the Circulation study, women have more unrecognized heart attacks than men and are more likely to be “mistakenly diagnosed and discharged from emergency departments.”

Be direct with doctors and other medical staff, Caulin-Glaser says: “Women arriving at the emergency room should state clearly that they think they are having a heart attack and need to be evaluated.”

At a minimum, an immediate evaluation should include being placed on oxygen, being given an aspirin, having blood drawn, having an electrocardiogram performed, and receiving a cardiac monitor within minutes of arrival, she says.

Being bold can save women’s lives, Caulin-Glaser adds. “If the triage nurse or emergency room physician does not take their concerns seriously and begin the immediate evaluation for a heart attack, then all women should tell the emergency room physician they want to be seen by a cardiologist.”

Shortly after Monroe’s heart attack was finally diagnosed, she underwent emergency quadruple bypass surgery. She reports that she didn’t know all the right questions to ask when she first felt symptoms, “but I definitely knew that something was wrong.” 

Now she urges other women who believe they might be having a heart attack to advocate for themselves. “Persist. No one knows your body the way you do,” Monroe says. “I really believe the only reason I’m alive today is that I wouldn’t give up, and I wouldn’t relent.”

Learn about your local heart attack resources

One of the most important ways you can advocate for yourself is doing research. “Take action before you ever have a heart attack,” Caulin-Glaser says.

“It’s important for women to do their homework regarding the hospitals in their neighborhoods. Find out which hospitals specialize in heart disease,” she says. Some questions for women to ask:

  • Does the hospital have a cardiac catheterization lab that performs procedures such as angioplasties and stents?
  • Is this “cath lab” available 24 hours, seven days a week?
  • Is there a coronary bypass surgery program?
  • Once a woman arrives in the emergency room with a heart attack, how quickly is she sent to the cath lab?
  • Can doctors open a blocked blood vessel within the acceptable range of 90 minutes?
  • Are all of the doctors in the emergency department board-certified in emergency medicine


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Reviewed on January 31, 2012

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