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Heart Attack Signs: What You Need to Know

What both men and women need to know about the warning signs

When it comes to symptoms of a heart attack, men and women need to be aware of the differences.

“Sometimes, women come to the ER later than men because they are not aware that they’re having a heart attack,” says Manoj Eapen, interventional cardiologist and director of the Cardiac Cath Lab for SSM Heart Institute at St. Mary’s Health Center.

What are the differences? Courtesy of the Cleveland Clinic, the common symptoms of a heart attack for each gender are as follows:


1. Angina, which is chest pain or discomfort in the center of the chest, also described as a heaviness, tightness, pressure, aching, burning, numbness, fullness or squeezing feeling that lasts several minutes or goes away and comes back.
2. Pain or discomfort in other areas of the upper body including the arms, left shoulder, back, neck, jaw or stomach.
3. Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
4. Sweating or “cold sweat.”
5. Fullness, indigestion, or choking feeling that feels like heartburn.
6. Nausea or vomiting.
7. Light-headedness, dizziness, extreme weakness or anxiety.
8. Rapid or irregular heart beats.


1. Upper back or shoulder pain.
2. Jaw pain or pain spreading to the jaw.
3. Pressure or pain in the center of the chest.
4. Lightheadedness.
5. Pain that spreads to the arm.
6. Unusual fatigue for several days.

If any of the symptoms last for more than five minutes, Eapen stresses that the person should call 911 immediately and wait for help. “Don’t drive,” he says. “It is very dangerous, particularly if the person losses consciousness and goes into cardiac arrest.

“I’ve seen some people having heart attacks drive to the hospital. It’s awfully brave, but I don’t recommend it.”

According to the American Heart Association, half of all people having a heart attack wait more than two hours before getting help. Eapen says some people are embarrassed to have a false alarm or simply afraid of having a heart attack that they tell themselves that they’re not having one.

“Even if it’s a false attack, you can get some help at the hospital and figure out the exact issue,” Eapen says.

Eapen says early recognition and treatment of heart attack symptoms can reduce heart damage and allow treatment immediately. A delay in response, he says, can lead to further damage to the heart, longer recovery, and in some cases, death.

After calling for emergency assistance, the operator may advise the heart attack victim to chew an aspirin. Those who have been prescribed nitroglycerin and experienced angina in the past will be asked to rest and take one nitroglycerin tablet and let it dissolve under the tongue. If the angina fails to subside after five minutes, call 911 again.

While waiting for help, it is recommended that the victim lie down and keep legs elevated, particularly important for those who are dizzy, light-headed and dropping blood pressure, Eapen explains.

Further, if you’re present when someone experiences cardiac arrest while waiting for emergency assistance, you may need to administer electric shock with a defibrillator or perform CPR. “If there’s a defibrillator nearby, try that first before administering CPR,” Eapen says.

In the end, heart attack victims need to move quickly in order to survive and recover from the traumatic experience.

“The main objective is to recognize the symptoms and to get help immediately,” Eapen adds.

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