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What are the Symptoms of Heart Attacks in Women?

Until recently, research on heart attacks focused mainly on men. However, studies now show that some of the symptoms of heart attacks in women are different from those in men.

Too often, the signs of heart attacks go unnoticed in women (by themselves, their family and their doctor). They may think that other health problems or drug side effects are causing their symptoms or that the symptoms will go away on their own. As a result, women don't always get the health care they need to prevent complications or death from a heart attack.

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.


Additional Resources


Selected Books:

Women Are Not Small Men: Life-Saving Strategies for Preventing and Healing Heart Disease in Women. Nieca Goldberg, 2003.

The Women's Heart Book: The Complete Guide to Your Healthy Heart. Frederic J. Pashkow & Charlotte Libow, 2001.


Prepared by the Canadian Women's Health Network and revised by Women's Health Matters at the New Women's College Hospital. This FAQ appeared originally on the Canadian Health Network Web site.