Skip to navigation Skip to Content


Search Marshfield Clinic Health System
Join a world-class health system. Find jobs

Symptoms of a Heart Attack in Women

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Heart attack is the leading killer of both men and women in the U.S. The key to survival is to recognize the signs and seek care immediately.

What Causes a Heart Attack?

Most heart attacks occur as a result of coronary artery disease, which is the buildup of plaque on the inner walls of the coronary arteries. 

Eventually, a section of plaque can break open, causing a blood clot. 

A heart attack occurs if the clot becomes large enough to cut off most or all of the blood flow through the artery, preventing oxygen-rich blood from reaching the heart muscle. 

The lack of oxygen damages the heart muscle. If the blockage isn’t treated quickly, the damaged heart muscle begins to die.

Other Names for Heart Attack

It can get confusing when you hear medical people refer to heart attack as other names. Some you may hear are:

  • Myocardial infarction or MI
  • Acute myocardial infarction or AMI
  • Acute coronary syndrome or ACS
  • Coronary thrombosis
  • Coronary occlusion

Early Treatment is Critical

The main goal of early treatment for a heart attack is to prevent or significantly reduce the amount of damage to the heart muscle. 

Today, we are fortunate to have new medications and treatments to help that were not available in years past. 

For example, clot-busting drugs can stop some heart attacks in progress. 

But, to be effective, these drugs must be given relatively soon after heart attack symptoms appear.

Call 911 Right Away

If you or someone you are with has any of the signs or symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 right away. 

It is almost always the fastest way to get life-saving treatment. 

The emergency medical service staff can begin treatment when they arrive, which can be much sooner than if someone goes by car. 

​​If you do not have access to call 911, get someone to take you to the hospital right away.

Do not drive yourself unless you have absolutely no other choice.

Heart Attack Warning Signs

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:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Back or jaw pain

The early signs of heart attacks in women are often overlooked. A study of 500 female heart attack patients found that most experienced these symptoms weeks before their heart attack:

  • Unusual fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Shortness of breath
  • Indigestion
  • Anxiety

If you experience any of these symptoms, don’t ignore them. Contact your doctor.