Heart attack in women: different signs to men

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A heart attack occurs when a coronary vessel is blocked by a blood clot. As a result, parts of the heart muscle are no longer supplied with oxygen. The symptoms that indicate a heart attack are partially different for women and men.

Signs of a heart attack

A heart attack (myocardial infarction) is always an emergency situation. It’s therefore essential to recognise the symptoms quickly and react immediately, as the sooner a heart attack is recognised, the better the chances of survival. The Swiss Heart Foundation describes the typical signs of a heart attack as follows:

  1. Severe pressure and a gripping, constricting or burning pain in the chest (lasting longer than 15 minutes). This is often accompanied by shortness of breath and fear of death.
  2. Sometimes the pain radiates to the whole chest, both shoulders, arms, neck, lower jaw and upper abdomen.
  3. Possible accompanying symptoms are a pale, sallow complexion, nausea, weakness, sweating, shortness of breath and an irregular pulse.
  4. The pain is not connected to body movements or breathing patterns, and doesn’t go away even after taking nitroglycerin (the medication often used by people with heart problems).

Myocardial infarction: differences between men and women

Men are twice as likely to have an acute heart attack than women. In addition, for hormonal reasons, women are more prone to heart attacks after the menopause. Myocardial infarction is therefore often considered a typical male condition.

Recognising a heart attack

In the event of a heart attack, quick action is essential. However, to be able to react quickly, it’s important to recognise the warning signals. Learn more about the typical signs in women and men in the video. (in german)

Symptoms of a heart attack in women

It’s not uncommon for a woman’s heart attack to be detected later than a man’s, or even too late. One reason for this is that the typical symptoms of a heart attack in women are less conclusive and the pain less severe. This is because when men have a heart attack, a blood clot obstructs the flow in the coronary arteries, whereas women are more likely to experience a spasm-like narrowing of the arteries. Women should therefore be wary of the following symptoms:

  • shortness of breath
  • unexplained nausea and / or vomiting
  • sweating
  • pressure in the chest, back or abdomen

Quick action saves lives

But with these rather atypical symptoms, how can we know if it's a heart attack or not? In general, if a person has never experienced these symptoms to this extent before, it indicates something serious and you should call the emergency number 144 as soon as possible. The importance of a quick response in the case of women is underlined by a 2018 study from Germany, which shows that women over the age of 65 are admitted to emergency rooms much later in the event of a heart attack than men of the same age. This means they have poorer chances of recovery.

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