Heart Attack Symptoms Differ in Young Women


Young and middle-aged women do not always experience chest pain, one of the most common symptoms of a heart attack, according to a new study.

“We need to move away from the image of an older man clutching his chest, when we think about acute coronary syndrome,” which includes heart attacks and angina, study researcher Dr. Louise Pilote, director of the Division of General Internal Medicine at McGill University Health Centre, says.. “The reality is that chest pain, age and gender are no longer the definers of a heart attack.”

Chest pain not felt during most heart attacks

The new study, published in Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine, is based on data from 1,000 young patients hospitalized for acute coronary syndrome. Even though chest pain was the most common symptom of heart attack in both sexes, researchers found that one in five women age 55 and younger didn’t experience chest pain with their heart attack. Plus, women in general were less likely to experience chest pain from heart attack than men.

The researchers also did not find a correlation between the experience of chest pain and the severity of the heart attack.

Apart from chest pain (uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest), the most common symptoms women experience during a heart attack are:

  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort
  • Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness

“Our study demonstrates that young people and women who come into the emergency without chest pain, but other telltale symptoms such as weakness, shortness of breath and/or rapid heartbeats, are in crisis,” Pilote says. “We need to be able to recognize this and adapt to new standard assessments in previously unrecognized groups such as young women.”

Watch Go Red For Women’s “Just a Little Heart Attack,” directed by and starring Elizabeth Banks, to recognize the signs of a heart attack in women.