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10 symptoms women may not notice before a heart attack

These symptoms may be experienced days or even weeks before a serious cardiac event.

It’s usually easy in movies and television shows to spot someone having a heart attack. The incident is depicted by someone grabbing their chest as they experience sudden and intense chest pain. But in real life, symptoms of a heart attack are often more subtle and may come on more gradually, especially in women.

“Early signs of a heart attack can be tricky to diagnose sometimes for women,” said Jessica Joseph-Alexis, DO, a cardiologist at Maury Regional Medical Center. “Pay attention to your symptoms and see a doctor if they persist. Time is of the essence when dealing with a potential heart attack.”

The most obvious sign of a heart attack is pressure, pain or tightness in the chest. But here are some less obvious signs of a heart attack that may occur, especially in women. They may go unnoticed or may be attributed to another cause. These symptoms may not only appear during a heart attack or immediately prior to it, but some symptoms may even be noticeable for days or weeks before the event occurs.

Less obvious signs of a heart attack:

  • Pressure, pain or tightness in the arm, neck, shoulder, jaw, back or abdomen

  • Feeling of fullness

  • Shortness of breath

  • Unusual fatigue or weakness

  • Sleep problems

  • Breaking out in a cold sweat

  • Anxiety

  • Indigestion

  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting

  • Nausea or vomiting

Women may experience symptoms for weeks before an actual heart attack occurs. Early symptoms may be mild, and they may come and go. Over time, symptoms may become more intense. Unfortunately, many women who notice these symptoms either ignore them or attribute them to something else.

During a heart attack, women’s symptoms may also be more subtle than men’s symptoms. This may cause women to not seek treatment as quickly as they should, which may explain why women are less likely to survive their first heart attack than men.

If you are a woman and experience any of the symptoms listed, consider that they may be related to an impending heart attack, especially if you have any risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, smoking or a family history of heart disease.

“You can’t change your age, gender or family history, but you can lower your risk for heart disease by keeping your blood pressure under control, stopping smoking, managing cholesterol, getting plenty of exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and managing blood sugar levels,” Joseph-Alexis said.

Maury Regional Medical Center (MRMC) is recognized as a Chest Pain Center with PCI by the American College of Cardiology and holds certification in the treatment of heart failure from The Joint Commission.

For more information about heart disease and how it affects women, as well as heart services offered at MRMC, visit

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Date Last Reviewed: December 13, 2022
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD
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Jessica Joseph-Alexis, DO