Signs of a Heart Attack in Men and Women

By Temma Ehrenfeld @TemmaEhrenfeld
March 29, 2023
Signs of a Heart Attack in Men and Women

Some symptoms are easy to misread or ignore, especially in women. Here's what you should know about signs of a heart attack in men and signs of a heart attack in women.

We all think we know the classic signs of a heart attack: a crushing or squeezing chest pain, usually under the breast bone. But that’s only typical in men. Most female heart attack patients don’t have chest pain and instead feel extremely weak suddenly, and suspect flu. 

Nearly 60 percent of women who die of heart attacks had no history of chest pain. They feel upper back pressure or jaw pain instead. In part, because they are less likely than men to suspect heart trouble, more women die of heart disease each year than men. 

Also in most heart attack patients, male and female, other warning signs appear days or even weeks beforehand, notes John Elefteriades, MD, a heart surgeon at Yale School of Medicine. The trouble is that those symptoms — which include fatigue, indigestion, and dizziness — usually don’t indicate anything serious.


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What are the signs of a heart attack in men? What about the signs of a heart attack in women?

  • Fatigue. Elefteriades argues that both men and women should be alert for heart trouble whenever usual activities leave them especially tired and they can’t attribute the feeling to lack of sleep or an illness. 
  • Flu-like symptoms. Fatigue accompanied by weakness and lightheadness are signs, especially in post-menopausal women. The key is whether you also have a fever, a sign of flu. 
  • Nausea and indigestion. People throw up before heart attacks. Of course, you could feel nauseated because you have stomach upset due to food poisoning or a virus. But if indigestion comes and goes, isn’t connected to a particular meal, and doesn’t improve within a day or so despite taking antacids, you have reason for concern. See a doctor. Go fast if you are also sweating or look gray.
  • Sexual problems in men. Again, it’s not uncommon for men to have trouble achieving or keeping an erection. But poor blood flow to the penis can be a sign of blockages elsewhere. Always talk to your doctor just to be sure. 
  • Shortness of breath. Feeling winded makes sense if you’ve pushed yourself especially hard during exercise. If it occurs when you’re not active — sitting, lying down, or puttering around the house — and lasts or gets stronger, dial 911. Unexplained shortness of breath can be the immediate precursor of a heart attack, and sometimes the only symptom.  
  • Unusual sweating. Some people sweat more than others. Sweating more than your own norm may be a sign that your heart is working harder to overcome blockages. Clammy skin and waking up with cold sweats are clues. Women who get hot flashes are typically hot, not cold. 

Women, especially after menopause, are more likely than men to have less specific symptoms. Also, be more concerned if you see sweating. It’s a common mistake to fear that you’ll be embarrassed in the ER if you don’t have serious problems — but, in fact, the EMT team will be relieved. They’ll be happy for you, not angry. 


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March 29, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN