Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack in Young Women

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: Heart Health, Women's Health, Heart Attack
Last Reviewed 03/22/2014

Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack in Young Women

We’ve long known that when it comes to heart attack symptoms, men and women are different. While men often have the telltale chest pain, signs and symptoms of a heart attack in women are far more subtle—that’s especially true when it comes to younger women.

A new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that one-in-five women under the age of 55 will have a heart attack without the telltale chest pain. For this study, the researchers looked at 1,015 patients hospitalized for acute coronary syndrome (ACS)—30 percent of whom were women younger than 55. What they found is that only 13.7 percent experienced chest pain versus 19 percent of men. 

The researchers also found that the women who didn’t have chest pain had far more subtle signs and symptoms of a heart attack than those with chest pain.

Critical Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack in Young Women

  • Chest (middle, left, or right side) discomfort, pain or pressure
  • Back discomfort
  • Pain or tingling of the jaw, elbow or arm (more often the left arm)
  • Throat tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Indigestion, or a feeling that if you could “burp”
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Lightheadedness with exertion, dizziness or vertigo
  • Disproportionate sweating with activity
  • Sudden profound fatigue

If you have any of these signs and symptoms of a heart attack, don’t shrug them off, and don’t let your doctor shrug these symptoms off either. You need to take the bull by the horns. If you’re a woman of any age, and have significant risk factors or if you have any suspicious symptoms even in the absence of risk factors, get an evaluation—demand it! If you have a family history of heart disease, you want to be twice as aggressive. 

Women who have a family history of early heart disease (occurring in immediate family members under age 50) have up to three times greater risk of developing arterial disease than someone without this genetic baggage. Make sure your doctor knows your family’s medical history and orders appropriate screening tests.

Now it’s your turn: Have you, or someone you know, experienced a heart attack without chest pain?

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