How I learned heart attacks in women are different

Women experience the symptoms of a heart attack differently than men — and everyone needs to know it. It could save a loved one’s life.

A lot is written about the differences between men and women. The battle of the sexes is a constant source of material for jokes to serious debate, and everything in between. As a married man for more than 30 years and the father of two adult daughters, I have witnessed these differences firsthand. Some are good and others, well, let’s just say the toilet seat is always down at our house.

One important difference is indisputable, and all of us should pay attention to it. It’s a matter of heart, so to speak, and specifically a heart attack.

Women experience the symptoms of a heart attack differently than men — and everyone needs to know it. It could save a loved one’s life.

A few years ago, my wife and I had just moved into a new home in St. Matthews. We were moving a couch around to find that perfect placement. Suddenly, my wife became very sweaty and flushed. Not the normal “it’s July in Kentucky and we’re moving a couch” type of sweating, but more like a fairy appeared out of nowhere and dumped a glass of water on her. She was completely soaked in sweat, and it happened so quickly that I knew something was not right.

From that flushed feeling, she complained of some pain in her neck and shoulders and kept saying, “I feel weird.” She was, in fact, having a heart attack. The warning signs were nothing like the grabbing the chest, falling over and collapsing you expect.

Norton Heart & Vascular Institute Connecting Hearts for Support

Connecting Hearts meets monthly to provide education and support for men and women after a heart attack, living with a heart condition or at risk for cardiovascular disease. To learn more about the group and get notified about upcoming events, go to

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Because women experience heart attack symptoms differently than men, the symptoms are often brushed aside and ignored when the woman knows deep down something is not right.

Heart disease is more common in women than most of us know. And heart disease kills more women per year than breast cancer.

My wife was lucky. A trip to the emergency room confirmed the heart attack diagnosis. Fortunately, she had no muscle damage, and after placement of a stent, she quickly was on the road to recovery.

We’ve been together more than 30 years and hopefully many more.

My hope is that all of us will take time to learn the symptoms of a heart attack for the women in our lives.

Signs and Symptoms of Heart Attack in Women

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness

The most common heart attack symptom for women, as with men, is chest pain or discomfort. Women are somewhat more likely than men to experience other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

If you or a loved one experiences heart attack symptoms, call 911 immediately. Emergency medical responders are the best transportation option. They can start care upon arrival and transfer critical data to the destination hospital. Every minute matters with a heart attack — time saved is muscle saved.

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