Signs of a Heart Attack in Women

I had a request to write on this topic, and I’m finally getting around to it. I’ve never been through this, so I’m not an expert. I have to take what I learned from the internet and from what someone told me her experience was like.

From what I learned, it is hard to tell if a woman is having a heart attack. It seems that the signs are easier to recognize when it happens to men, although my husband’s co-worker went home a month ago complaining about a pain in his arm and died that night from a heart attack. He didn’t think he was having a heart attack, and no one else did, either.

In a nutshell, here is what to watch for:

  • Unexpected Fatigue that leaves you with no energy at all. They say you have trouble even walking to the bathroom.
  • Shortness of breath while at rest.
  • Sweating while at rest.
  • Waking up in the middle of the night and feeling as if you can’t catch your breath.
  • Upset stomach; sometimes vomiting.
  • It feels as if an elephant is sitting on your chest.
  • Heartburn that doesn’t go away with something like Tums or sitting up.
  • Pain in neck, upper arms, and/or jaw.
  • Heartbeat gets unexpectedly fast.
  • Chest pain.

From what I gathered, this stuff can go on for weeks or months before the actual heart attack hits full force, and women don’t experience all of these symptoms. So it’s no wonder that this is a very hard thing to figure out. I honestly don’t know how a woman is supposed to know if they’re having a heart attack. The woman I know who had one said that she had heartburn that went on and on even though she took Tums. She said she couldn’t sleep since it was so bad.

My concern is that if you’re having one or two of the symptoms listed above, will it be obvious to a doctor if you go in and mention having those symptoms? My mother-in-law had an eruption in her intestine and the doctors kept saying it was a stomach bug. She almost died because they couldn’t figure out that was going on. Now, I can’t really blame doctors for not figuring that out. She had stomach bug symptoms. Doctors do their best to provide quality care and try to get things right. But we are all human.

So given the list for all of the symptoms that can signal a heart attack in women, I don’t know how a woman is supposed to figure out what is really going on when any of these symptoms can pop up so often over the course of our lifetime.

I guess the extreme fatigue and shortness of breath or sudden burst of sweating would signal something to me that I need to sit up and pay attention, but I’ve had all of the other things happen at one time or another in the course of my lifetime. Also, I’ve been battling a sensitive stomach since I was in my early 20s.

From all of this, I’m thinking a heart attack is probably one of the most difficult things to pin down. Maybe the main thing is that the symptoms linger for longer than normal. Maybe it’s that things are getting worse instead of better. Or maybe we have to rely on the gut instinct that tells us something is seriously wrong.

What about you? Have you come across anyone who’s had a heart attack? What were the symptoms?


Here are the resources I’m pulled together for this post:

Important Heart Attack Red Flags For Women You Should Recognize

Women: Don’t Ignore These 3 Subtle Heart Attack Symptoms

6 Symptoms of Women’s Heart Attacks


About Ruth Ann Nordin

Ruth Ann Nordin mainly writes historical western romances and Regencies. From time to time, she branches out to other genres, but her first love is historical romance. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband and a couple of children. To find out more about her books, go to
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4 Responses to Signs of a Heart Attack in Women

  1. dorothypaula says:

    My Uncle Joe (my mom’s brother – age 52) died of a heart attack – later they named it a cerebral hemorrhage in 1957. From what I learned later, they said he’d had chest pains for some time and was under the doctor’s care, but he never told us (my grandmother and mom) so as not to worry them. It started one night with indigestion, he thought, and took some brioschi (an antacid similar to bicarbonate of soda). He passed out shortly after and the paramedics tried everything to revive him to the point of making a large incision and hand massaging his heart. (Remember, this was 1957 and much of the technology we have today was non-existent.) He was like a dad to me, in place of the one I never knew. Many years later (1987) my grandma passed in her sleep of heart failure. She was 99 years old and lived with us. For nine years prior she had suffered with symptoms of Alzheimer’s, although the doctor had also mentioned hardening of the arteries. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. Then she seemed better and fell asleep. That night I slept in the living room, a few yards from her bedroom. I woke during the night and went in to check on her. She had passed away in her sleep. I called 911. All of you dear writers, take care of your health. Eat wisely and moderately, exercise according to your age. Ruth’s advice is well worth taken. ❤

    • No one ever says that men can experience indigestion. It’s only been applied to women. That’s interesting to note it can happen to men, too. From what I gather (and your comments only make this seem more likely), it’s HARD to know when you’re having a heart attack. There is no set of symptoms that are specific to it. There are many, and they vary from one person to another. I don’t know how we’re supposed to know if we need to see the doctor under these circumstances.

      You’re right about taking care of our health. I think women especially have trouble with this since we’re so busy taking care of others. We naturally put ourselves last, but I keep telling myself when I take time to exercise and eat well, I am going to be able to take care of others a lot better.

  2. I have acid reflux, so heartburn wouldn’t be unusual for me. I think the only symptoms on here that I’ve had that concerns me is my heartbeat suddenly getting fast. I have a Fitbit, so I always know what my heart rate is. I’ve always been a bit concerned when it got too fast.

    • I’ve had periods where my heartbeat has sped up all of the sudden, too, and that always freaks me out. Those have been rare and have only lasted for about 30 seconds. I don’t have a Fitbit, but I can feel it.

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