February is National Heart Month

February 22, 2011

I was at the Democratic Caucus 2 years ago when the gentleman across the table from me grabbed his chest and collapsed to the floor.  When most people envision what a heart attack looks like, they picture exactly what I saw.  But not every heart attack looks like this.

While chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack, not everyone experiences this. In fact, women are less likely than men to feel chest pain during a heart attack.  A 2005 study published in the journal “Circulation” revealed that 43% of women who suffered a heart attack did not experience any type of chest pain or pressure during their heart attack.1  

Other common heart attack symptoms include shortness of breath, sweating, and pain in one or both arms. Shortness of breath may occur at the same time as the chest pain or it may occur before it. Shortness of breath is more common in women, whereas sweating is more common in men.2, 3

Furthermore, research suggests that women are more likely than men to experience so-called “atypical” symptoms, such as back pain, dizziness, indigestion, nausea, or even fatigue.4   

Recognizing the symptoms of a heart attack early can save lives.  Many heart attack treatments work best if given within the first hour.  Women often ignore early warning signs and symptoms, delaying treatment, and consequently experience worse outcomes after a heart attack than men.   So do yourself and your loved ones a favor:  Know the signs of heart attack and seek immediate care if you think you may be having one!  

-Dr. Carly Bridge


  1. McSweeney JC, Cody M, O’Sullivan P, et al. Women’s early warning symptoms of acute myocardial infarction. Circulation. 2003;108:2619-2623.
  2. Goldberg RJ, O’Donnell C, Yarzebski J, et al. Sex differences in symptom presentation associated with acute myocardial infarction: a population-based perspective. Am Heart J. 1998;136:189-195.
  3. Meischke H, Larsen MP, Eisenberg MS. Gender differences in reported symptoms for acute myocardial infarction: impact on prehospital delay time interval. Am J Emerg Med. 1998;16:363-366.
  4. Milner KA, Funk M, Richards S, et al. Gender differences in symptom presentation associated with coronary heart disease. Am J Cardiol. 1999;84:39

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