Men vs. Women: Confusion Over Heart Symptoms

Feb. 18, 2005 -- Both men and women can have common heart attack symptoms and ones that aren't typical.

Learn to spot the warnings signs so you can seek treatment for them ASAP.

Heart Attacks in Men vs. Women

Classic heart attack symptoms don't only affect men. Women can have them too. These common warnings signs include:

  • A crushing, squeezing, or burning pain, pressure, or fullness in the center of the chest. The pain may radiate to the neck, one or both arms, the shoulders, or the jaw. The chest discomfort lasts more than a few minutes or can go away and return.
  • Shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, chills, sweating, or weak pulse
  • Cold and clammy skin, gray pallor, or a severe appearance of illness
  • Fainting (rare)

Not all of these symptoms happen during a heart attack. But if you think you have any of them, call 911 immediately, says the American Heart Association.

How Men and Women Describe Their Symptoms

Researchers from the University of Rochester's nursing school in New York studied 41 women and 59 men who'd had heart attacks. The study centered on heart attack symptoms and any delays in seeking medical care.

Most participants were white. The women were about 70 years old, compared with the men's average age of 60. More men were current or former smokers -- 81%, compared with 56% of the women. No gender differences existed for a history of angina (chest pain), coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, previous heart attacks, or cholesterol.

Here's how the participants described their symptoms:

  • Pain, shortness of breath, fatigue. No gender differences
  • Right-side chest discomfort. 4.7 times more likely to be reported by men
  • Throat discomfort. 12 times more likely to be reported by women
  • Discomfort. 2.7 times more likely to be reported by men
  • Dull ache. 3.9 times more likely to be reported by men
  • Pressing on the chest. 7.3 times more likely to be reported by women
  • Vomiting. 3.9 times more likely to be reported by women
  • Indigestion. 3.7 times more likely to be reported by men

Men were also five times more likely than women to recognize their symptoms as being related to their heart, say the researchers.

Every Minute Counts During Heart Attack

Participants didn't pick up the phone and call 911 right away when they noticed those symptoms. Both men and women delayed seeking medical help for hours.

Men took about 3 hours, on average, before seeking help. Women waited even longer: 4 hours, on average.

That's dangerous. Get help at the first sign of a heart attack. Don't wait, even if you're not sure what's going on. Let doctors figure that out. Time can make the difference between life and death.

Show Sources


Second International Conference on Women, Heart Disease, and Stroke, Orlando, Fla., Feb. 16-19, 2005. 

News release, American Heart Association. 

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise: "Understanding Heart Attack: Symptoms." American Heart Association, "Heart Attack." CDC, "Know the Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack."

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