Younger Women Often Delay Seeking Emergency Care for Heart Attack Symptoms

February 25, 2015|5:49 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

There is growing awareness that younger women—and their doctors—need to be more aware of the warning signs of a heart attack. A recent article by NPR explores reasons why women ages 30 to 55 often delay seeking immediate help, even if they do suspect they are experiencing one.

According to a recent study based on in-depth interviews, even when women suspected that they were having a heart attack, many said they were hesitant to bring it up because they didn't want to look like hypochondriacs. The signs of a heart attack can also be far less obvious in women.

"We need to do a better job of empowering women to share their concerns and symptoms," the study author noted.

In movies and television, a heart attack means one thing: a sharp pain in the chest. But in reality, symptoms can vary, particularly for women, for whom shortness of breath, nausea, and neck pains can be sign of a heart attack—with or without the occurrence of chest pain. Below from the American Heart Association is a description of the signs of a heart attack for women.

Heart Attack Signs in Women

  1. Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  2. Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  3. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  4. Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
  5. As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

Women are encouraged not to wait more than five minutes before seeking immediate help if they experience any of these signs.

For more information, see this article published this week by NPR. The study was published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes (login required).