Women’s Heart Attacks: Signs and Symptoms

So, in response to the news today of Rosie O’Donnell’s sudden heart attack,  I decided to put together a montage of heart attack symptoms from various web sites. I won’t be going into detail, just listing the symptoms as I find them…the links are included so that you can go and read more if you want to. I know that at 57 years of age, heart attack is something I do worry about, mainly because even after reading everything I can get my hands and eyes on, I’m still not 100% sure what to watch for – in other words, if that time ever comes, will I even know that I’m in the midst of having a heart attack?

Many of the symptoms experienced by women prior to having a heart attack are vague and can often be attributed to other reasons, which is what appears to have happened in Rosie;s: situation. She had just finished helping another woman out her car when she felt the pain:  “I had an ache in my chest/both my arms were sore/everything felt bruised/muscular – i thought.” Seems reasonable enough to brush off the pain in that circumstance…who wouldn’t feel some aching after helping to lift a heavy person out of their car?

But her pain persisted. As she wrote: “I became nauseous/my skin was clammy/I was very very hot/I threw up/maybe this is a heart attack/I googled womens heart attack symptoms/I had many of them/but really? – I thought – naaaa.” Again, that inclination to brush it off. Luckily, happily, she did listen to that inner voice of hers and got herself checked out. You can read more here.


You can find lots of information about the symptoms of women’s heart attacks…I’ve just pulled a few tidbits and lists out to post here to save you a bit of time. This can be scary, but maybe these warning signs will sear themselves into our brains and save our lives or the life of someone we know.

1.  Here are some quick stats from here:

The women’s major symptoms prior to their heart attack included:

  • Unusual fatigue – 70%
  • Sleep disturbance – 48%
  • Shortness of breath – 42%
  • Indigestion – 39%
  • Anxiety – 35%

Major symptoms during the heart attack include:

  • Shortness of breath – 58%
  • Weakness – 55%
  • Unusual fatigue – 43%
  • Cold sweat – 39%
  • Dizziness – 39%

2.  Here’s a list of signs from MedicineNet.com:

The most important sign is feeling really tired – even if after enough sleep. Other signs of heart disease in women are:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling sick to the stomach
  • Feeling scared or nervous
  • New or worse headaches
  • An ache in the chest
  • Feeling “heavy” or “tight” in the chest
  • A burning feeling in the chest
  • Pain in the back, between the shoulders
  • Pain or tightness in the chest that spreads to the jaw, neck, shoulders, ear, or the inside of the arms
  • Pain in the belly, above the belly button

3.  And more from the Canadian government health site:

Chest pain is the most common symptom in both sexes, but women may also experience these other symptoms:

  • unusual fatigue that gets worse with activity
  • difficulty breathing
  • heartburn that is unrelieved by antacids
  • nausea and/or vomiting that is unrelieved by antacids
  • anxiety
  • tightening and pain in the chest that may extend into the neck, jaws and shoulders
  • general feeling of weakness
  • paleness
  • sweating.

Some women may have few of these symptoms, while others may have all of them at the same time. Symptoms may suddenly appear and then disappear. Also, women often report symptoms up to one month before the heart attack. If a woman has any of these symptoms and thinks she may be having a heart attack, she should immediately call emergency (911) or go to the nearest emergency medical centre.

There’s another extensive article here, outlining the 10 top signs we shouldn’t ignore. It’s chock full of vital information, too much for me to copy here, so I’ll just leave you with the link.

Perhaps the best advice I could give, besides being aware of the warning signs, is to really listen to that inner voice that we women have deep inside of us. Our bodies know, and if we’re in tune with what’s normal and within our daily rhythm, we will intuitively know when something’s not quite right. Listen! Listen to that little voice deep inside of you when it’s trying to whisper its wisdom to you.

That’s how we caught my uterine cancer so early that I didn’t even require further treatment after the surgery. I knew something was wrong, despite my GP’s assurances that it was just menopause. I chose to listen to my body and inner voice over my doctor. When I went to the specialist, I even apologized for possibly wasting her time…her response was exactly what we women need to hear more. She said she would rather I come in and “waste her time” and be healthy, than to wait until it’s too late to fix the problem…she wished that more women would listen to that little voice inside of them and get themselves checked out sooner than later.

Here’s to being heart-wise and all ears when that little voice speaks. ♥

About Sharon

I love to write. I love to write myself into being right here right now. Writing releases something in me that needs wings, writing opens doors and windows that I often don't even realize are possible, writing helps me breathe out the dusty old, and to breathe in the new and possible. My hope is that maybe writing here in this blog will bring new light into these dusty old hallways and help me to clear out the thinking processes and mindsets that just don't work for me anymore. I seek to breathe new light and life into the nooks and crannies of a soul that has been feeling somewhat lost and frayed because of the last few patches of road I've had to travel.
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6 Responses to Women’s Heart Attacks: Signs and Symptoms

  1. angelika49 says:

    Very interesting, Sharon. It is always better to be informed,…just incase.
    This is an excellent summary, and yes, you have saved me lots of time, gathering the info myself. I really appreciate it. 🙂


    • Sharon says:

      I’m glad it was helpful, Angelika…I like summaries so that I can tell at a glance if I want/need to investigate further. And I enjoy researching stuff, so it seemed a timely opportunity to do both for this topic. 🙂


  2. You have supplied a great list of warning signs. I learned that your risk of having a heart attack is greatest if a sibling has had one. Both my father and my brother had one, but the biggest risk for me was from my brother’s attack. Sadly, he did not survive and passed away at age 42.


    • Sharon says:

      Thank you for your visit and comment, Overwhelmed By Joy (I love your name!) I’m so sad to hear about your brother…my brother died at age 42 as well, so I know the agony of that loss. Are you under regular care to monitor your own heart?


  3. Great post, Sharon. We women have that intuition for a reason – to use it! Too many women, I think, ignore their own symptoms because they’re too focused on taking care of everyone else. We need to take care of ourselves first and foremost, because if we don’t, we can’t take care of anyone else. That’s a hard lesson to learn, and one I learned many years ago, fortunately. 🙂


    • Sharon says:

      Thanks, Ruth. One of the most frustrating things I encounter regularly is being able to hear that little voice/intuition, but not being able to make others understand how important it is that I act on it…for example, the uterine cancer. Where would I be today had I not listened to that voice and insisted on being proactive instead of giving into my GP’s advice that it was normal?! There have been episodes in my life where I didn’t listen to my intuition and am still feeling the ripple effects from some situations that went off the tracks and caused such a devastating domino effect. Yes, it’s a hard lesson to learn…our intuition is there for a reason and we cannot ignore it when it whispers.


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