Confusing Heart Attack Warning Signs in Women: 12+ Symptoms You Should Not Ignore!

Heart attacks, or myocardial infarctions, are critical medical emergencies where the blood supply to a part of the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot. While heart attacks are commonly associated with men, they are a significant health risk for women as well. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in many parts of the world, surpassing even breast cancer. Understanding how to detect a heart attack, why women are susceptible, and the relevant statistics is crucial for improving outcomes and saving lives.

Symptoms of Heart Attacks in Women

Female doctor holding a heart.
Image credit Africa Studio via Shutterstock.

Heart attack symptoms can vary between men and women. Women are less likely to experience the “classic” heart attack symptoms such as severe chest pain. Instead, they may have more subtle and atypical symptoms, which can sometimes lead to misdiagnosis or delayed treatment. Women also tend to avoid disrupting the lives of others and end up waiting too long to seek help, endangering themselves even further.

Because so many of the heart attack symptom descriptions are male oriented it can be confusing for women to recognize the signs.

Key symptoms to be aware of include:

Chest Discomfort

women holding chest. Heart attack.
Image credit Olena Yakobchuk via Shutterstock.

Chest pain or discomfort is the most common heart attack symptom in women, but it may not always be severe or localized to the left side of the chest. It can feel like pressure, tightness, fullness or pain in the center of the chest.

Confusing aspect: Women may experience chest pain differently than men, with a more gradual onset or a feeling of discomfort rather than severe pain.

Arms, Neck, Jaw or Stomach Pain

woman with neck pain.
Image credit YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV via Shutterstock.

Pain or discomfort can occur in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.

Confusing aspect: Women are more likely to experience pain in these areas than men, which can be mistaken for other conditions like muscle strain or indigestion.

Shortness of Breath

shortness of breathe.
Image credit RONNACHAIPARK via Shutterstock.

Feeling winded or unable to catch your breath, even when sitting still or engaging in light physical activity.

Confusing aspect: Shortness of breath can be mistaken for asthma or other respiratory conditions, especially if it occurs without chest pain.

Cold Sweat

Dizzy. Lightheaded.
Image credit Doucefleur via Shutterstock.

Breaking out in a cold sweat, often accompanied by other symptoms.

Confusing aspect: Sweating can be mistaken for menopausal hot flashes or anxiety.

Nausea or Vomiting

Young woman clutching stomach in pain.
Image credit B-D-S Piotr Marcinski via Shutterstock.

Feeling queasy or vomiting without any apparent reason.

Confusing aspect: Nausea or vomiting can be mistaken for food poisoning, the flu, or other gastrointestinal issues.

Lightheadedness or Dizziness

Image credit Pheelings media via Shutterstock.

Feeling faint or dizzy, especially when standing up or changing positions.

Confusing aspect: Lightheadedness can be mistaken for dehydration, low blood sugar, or other conditions.


Image credit PeopleImages.com – Yuri A via Shutterstock.

Unusual or unexplained tiredness, sometimes lasting for days, can be an important symptom of a heart attack in women. Feeling extremely tired or exhausted, even after resting.

Confusing aspect: Fatigue can be mistaken for depression, anemia, or other conditions.

Indigestion or Stomach Pain

Woman with stomach pain in bathroom.
Image credit MBLifestyle via Shutterstock.

Feeling severe abdominal pressure or pain, which can be mistaken for heartburn, acid reflux, or a stomach ulcer.

Confusing aspect: Indigestion or stomach pain can be mistaken for gastrointestinal issues rather than a heart attack.


Woman having a heart attack
Photo credit dragana991 from Getty Images via Canva Pro

Feeling an irregular heartbeat or fluttering in the chest.

Confusing aspect: Palpitations can be mistaken for anxiety or panic attacks.

Confusion or Disorientation

Confused woman.
Image credit voronaman via Shutterstock.

Feeling disoriented or confused, especially if accompanied by other symptoms.

Confusing aspect: Confusion can be mistaken for a neurological condition or a side effect of medication.

Coughing or Wheezing

Woman coughing
Photo credit nensuria via Canva

Coughing or wheezing without any apparent respiratory infection.

Confusing aspect: Coughing or wheezing can be mistaken for asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Weakness or Tingling

weakness or tingling woman's hands
Photo credit doucefleur from doucefleur’s Images via Canva Pro

Feeling weak or experiencing tingling sensations in the arms, legs, or face.

Confusing aspect: Weakness or tingling can be mistaken for a neurological condition or a side effect of medication.

Unusual Symptoms

women walking at night in bed.
Image credit fizkes via Shutterstock.

Some women may experience unusual symptoms like a sense of impending doom, anxiety, or a feeling of being “off” without any apparent reason.Sudden sleep problems, including waking up in the middle of the night, could signal a heart attack.

Confusing aspect: These symptoms can be mistaken for anxiety or depression rather than a heart attack.

These symptoms can sometimes be mistaken for other conditions, such as the flu or indigestion. The American Heart Association is an excellent resource for learning more.

Why Women Are Susceptible

women wondering. Thinking.
Image credit Krakenimages.com via Shutterstock.

Women’s susceptibility to heart attacks can be influenced by various factors, both biological and social. Some of the key factors include:

Hormonal Differences

Image credit marekuliasz via Shutterstock.

Estrogen has a protective effect on the heart, but this protection diminishes after menopause, increasing the risk of heart disease.

Atypical Symptoms

Really? Wonder.
Image credit Olga Arminen via Shutterstock.

As mentioned earlier, women often experience less obvious symptoms, which can delay diagnosis and treatment.

Psychosocial Factors

Woman with blonde curly hair pressing fingers into head. Stress. Stressed out.
Image credit: pathdoc via Shutterstock.

Stress, depression, and anxiety are more prevalent in women and can increase the risk of heart disease.


Elderly female is expressing pain. old woman arthritis
Photo credit Olena Yakobchuk via Shutterstock.

Women are more likely to have comorbid conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and autoimmune diseases, which can elevate heart attack risk.

Lifestyle Factors

woman stuffing face with donuts. Doughnuts.
Image credit Dean Drobot via Shutterstock.

Obesity, smoking, lack of physical activity, and poor diet are common risk factors that affect both men and women but can have differing impacts based on sex.


Upward graph trend.
Image credit StockerThings via Shutterstock.

Understanding the statistical landscape of heart attacks in women can highlight the urgency and importance of addressing this health issue. Key statistics include:


Three older women outside in a courtyard amongst suburban houses.
Image credit Carlo Prearo via Shutterstock.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, causing about 1 in every 5 female deaths.

Mortality Rates

Sad, tired lonely senior woman. Image credit Inside Creative House via Shutterstock..
Image credit Inside Creative House via Shutterstock.

Approximately 47% of sudden cardiac deaths occur outside a hospital, suggesting that many people, including women, do not act on early warning signs.


doctor and patient.
Image credit Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock.

Studies have shown that women are less likely than men to recognize heart disease as their greatest health threat.

Age Factor

worried fearful woman.
Image credit fizkes via Shutterstock.

While the risk of heart disease increases with age, younger women are not immune. Risk factors like smoking, obesity, and diabetes are causing more heart attacks in women aged 35-54.

Ethnic Disparities

Black woman holding head in hands. Headache.
Image credit Ground Picture via Shutterstock.

Women of color, especially African American and Hispanic women, are at higher risk of heart disease and have higher mortality rates from heart attacks compared to white women.

Prevention and Early Detection

Young woman wearing glasses working at desk. Smart.
Image credit Mike Laptev via Shutterstock.

Preventing heart attacks in women involves a multifaceted approach that includes lifestyle changes, medical interventions, and awareness:

Healthy Lifestyle Choices

Older couple running.
Exercise. Image credit Lordn via Shutterstock.

Eating a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding smoking are fundamental steps. Read: 25 Essential Habits for a Healthier and Happier Life

Regular Check-Ups

Female doctor in head scarf.
Image credit Prostock-studio via Shutterstock.

Regular health screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and diabetes can help detect risk factors early.


Medications, supplements, pills.
Image credit Krichevtseva via Shutterstock.

For some women, medication may be necessary to manage conditions like hypertension or high cholesterol.

Education and Awareness

woman studying on computer. Understanding. Learning.
Image credit fizkes via Shutterstock.

Increasing awareness about heart attack symptoms and risk factors specific to women can lead to earlier detection and treatment.

Stress Management

women carrying yoga mats.
Image credit Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock.

Learning to manage stress through techniques like meditation, yoga, or therapy can reduce heart disease risk. Read: 14 Ways To Care For Yourself And Loved Ones During Turbulent Times

The Takeaway

healthy older woman running.
Image credit javi_indy via Shutterstock.

Heart attacks in women are a critical health issue that requires greater awareness and understanding. By recognizing the symptoms, understanding why women are susceptible, and considering the statistical evidence, women can be better prepared to take proactive steps in preventing and detecting heart attacks. Educating women about heart health and ensuring they receive timely and appropriate care can significantly reduce the burden of heart disease and improve outcomes.

Understanding these nuances and taking preventive measures can help save lives and improve the quality of life for women around the world.

Why More Young Adults Are Experiencing Strokes

Young person with stroke, headache.
Image credit Tunatura via Shutterstock.

Stroke rates in younger adults (under 50) have been increasing, while rates in older adults have shown different trends. Several sources have highlighted this trend. Here is some data to consider: READ: Why More Young Adults Are Experiencing Strokes

Women Are At Far Higher Risk For Dementia Than Men. Why?

Older woman with longing looks out the window.
Photo credit De Visu via Shutterstock

Studies show that women are more likely to develop dementia than men. In fact, twice as many women suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. This higher risk is partly because women tend to live longer than men, and age is a major factor in dementia. However, whether women face a greater risk at the same age as men is still up for debate among researchers. READ: Women Are At Far Higher Risk For Dementia Than Men. Why?

Join Us

The Queen Zone Join Us Feature Image
Image Credit The Queen Zone

Join us on this empowering journey as we explore, celebrate, and elevate “her story.” The Queen Zone is not just a platform; it’s a community where women from all walks of life can come together, share their experiences, and inspire one another. Welcome to a space where the female experience takes center stage. Sign up for our newsletter so you don’t miss a thing, Queen!


  • Dede Wilson

    Dédé Wilson is a journalist with over 17 cookbooks to her name and is the co-founder and managing partner of the digital media partnership Shift Works Partners LLC, currently publishing through two online media brands, FODMAP Everyday® and The Queen Zone.

    View all posts
  • Robin Jaffin

    As the co-founder and managing partner of the digital media partnership Shift Works Partners, LLC through two online media brands, FODMAP Everyday® and The Queen Zone she has played a pivotal role in promoting dietary solutions for individuals with specific needs in the health and wellness industry as well as amplify the voices and experiences of women worldwide.

    View all posts

Similar Posts