Heart attack symptoms may not show

We probably think we know the signs and symptoms that mean someone is having a heart attack – shortness of breath, chest discomfort, sudden numbness on one side of the body – but this may not apply to all women. According to new research, women are more likely than men to have a heart attack without suffering any chest pain or discomfort.

Researchers from Watson Clinic in Florida wanted to look at the differences between men and women in how they responded to heart attacks, so they assessed data from more than one million people who had been affected. They noted that although more men than women have heart events, a higher proportion of women died in hospital even when they were the same age – 15% of women died, compared to 10% of men.

This difference became less pronounced as women aged, with women actually being at less risk of dying as a result of heart attack once they passed the age of 65. They also found that women tend to be older when they have a first heart attack – an average of seven years older than men.


On further investigation the researchers found that 42% of women came to hospital without any chest pain or discomfort – the same was true of 30% of men. The problem is that without chest pains individuals may not believe they are having a heart attack and may take longer to seek help or may not be as clear in describing what they think is wrong when they arrive at the hospital, resulting in delayed care.

“Contrary to popular belief, a heart attack doesn’t necessarily mean dramatic and excruciating chest pains,” says senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, Cathy Ross. “Symptoms vary; for some the pain is severe and yet others may feel nothing more than a mild discomfort or heaviness. The most important thing to remember is if you think you’re having a heart attack, call 999.”

The NHS Choices website says: some people may feel pain, tingling or discomfort in one or both arms, the throat, jaw or back in addition to pains in the chest; and others may experience pain in only these locations with no pain in the chest. Sometimes the chest pain may only be mild discomfort and it may feel like heartburn. Other common symptoms that may be experienced – either with or without pain – are feeling short of breath, sweaty and clammy, feeling sick, or feeling faint or collapsing.