Heart attack symptoms in women – do you know the signs?

Heart disease isn't just a problem that affects men - it's just as important to recognise the heart attack symptoms in women and discover how to stay healthy, too.

We’re constantly reminded about our breast health and how to check for changes, but important as that is, what most of us don’t realise is that we’re more likely to 
die from a heart attack than we are from breast cancer.

The statistics around female heart health are staggering – 69,000 women have 
a heart attack in Britain each year, leading to 28,000 deaths (that’s double the amount that die from breast cancer).

For decades, doctors and patients have thought of heart disease and heart attacks as something that predominantly affects overweight, middle-aged men. But now reports show that if they 
lead an unhealthy lifestyle, women’s risk of having a heart attack is significantly more elevated than men’s.

Why is heart health a risk for women?

Scientists writing in the British Medical Journal believe that despite the elevated risks, women are still receiving worse care than men. Women with diabetes, for example, are 15% less likely than men with the same condition to receive the recommended level of care. And British women are 50% more likely than men to have a heart attack initially misdiagnosed, as heart attack symptoms in women are less well-known and can be more subtle.

But it’s not just the medical experts that are to blame.

“Heart attacks 
just don’t receive enough publicity,” explains Dr Foster. “We’re eating worse and exercising less, which 
is raising our LDL (bad) cholesterol and pushing up our blood pressure, which is all adding to the risk.”

Plus, women themselves still see heart disease as a typically male condition. And there’s even the idea that it’s not something women can develop.

MORE: Study shows heart attack patients delay medical help due to misunderstanding symptoms

Part of the problem is that male heart attack indicators, which are well documented, can differ from lesser-known female symptoms.

“Women do not present in the same way as men,” explains Dr Foster. “They don’t often have typical left-sided chest pain that ‘classic’ heart attack patients get.”

Do you know the heart attack symptoms in women?

Heart attack symptoms in women

Common heart attack symptoms in women

  • Extreme fatigue 
(that has lasted days 
or even weeks)
  • Pain in your 
upper back, shoulders, neck and jaw
  • Profuse sweating
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Sleeplessness

These symptoms can often be dismissed as indigestion, inflammation of the cartilage around your rib or gallstones, so it may take a while for women to seek help. But by the time they reach hospital, they may have suffered significant heart damage. So if you experience any of 
the above, head straight to A&E.

Staying heart healthy: how to adapt your lifestyle

So what can we do to ensure that 
we keep our hearts healthy? Philippa Hobson, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, advises 
how to look after your heart.

Make time for your NHS 
Health Check

If you live in England and are aged between 40 and 74, it’s important 
you get your Health Check at your 
GP surgery. It’s free and designed 
to assess your risk of stroke, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, dementia 
and kidney disease. The 20-minute 
test involves checking your blood pressure, pulse and cholesterol, and discussing your lifestyle and family history of medical conditions.

MORE: Exercising four to five times a week necessary to keep your heart young, study finds

Exercise when you can

Don’t feel you have the time? Incorporate it into your daily life. 
If you commute to work, get off the 
bus a stop early or park your car further away and walk the extra distance. Ideally, aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical exercise 
a week – break it down into 
10-minute chunks if that’s easier.

Heart attack symptoms in women

Don’t fall victim to 
‘silent killers’

Risk factors for heart and circulatory disease, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol, don’t usually have symptoms. Don’t wait until you feel unwell to get tested. Diagnosed early, they’re easily monitored and treated.

Look after yourself

If you’re a smoker, quitting is the best thing you can do for your heart. Cut down on fatty and salty foods, and eat 
a balanced diet that includes plenty of different coloured fruit and veg.

For more information on how to look after your heart health, visit bhf.org.uk.

And remember to always be aware of the signs.

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