What Symptoms Do Women Experience During A Heart Attack?


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Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States, and yet the guidelines on identifying and treating a heart attack come from studies performed almost exclusively in men. This poses a massive problem because the symptoms that men and women experience can be very different. When a woman’s heart attack isn’t identified and treated early, her life hangs in the balance.

What Are The Classic Heart Attack Symptoms?

According to the CDC, there are 5 “classic” heart attack symptoms:

  • chest pain or discomfort
  • feeling weak, light-headed, or faint, with or without excessive sweating
  • shortness of breath
  • pain or discomfort in arms or shoulders
  • pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back

Some people experience all these symptoms, and some only have one or two, but the most common symptom experienced by both men and women is chest pain. People who experience these symptoms and seek medical attention will likely be diagnosed and treated quickly.

Are Symptoms Different For Men And Women?

Unfortunately, women are more likely to have atypical heart attack symptoms than men. For example, while chest pain remains the primary symptom for women, they’re more likely to describe it as a pressure or tight feeling than the classic “elephant on the chest” pain many men describe. In addition, research shows that almost half of women don’t experience chest pain at any time during their heart attack.

Women have been known to experience early heart attack symptoms up to a month before their diagnosis. Some common “early warning” symptoms seen in women include fatigue, sleep problems, shortness of breath, indigestion, anxiety, heart racing, and arms feeling weak or heavy.

During a heart attack, women are more likely than men to complain of shortness of breath, weakness, fatigue, cold sweats, dizziness, nausea, and weak or heavy arms.

How Do These Differences Affect Women?

Because women don’t always present with the classic symptoms of a heart attack, they’re at greater risk of their diagnosis being delayed. It’s not uncommon for women to present exclusively with non-specific symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea, and fatigue. Because of this, women are 50 percent more likely to be misdiagnosed than men, and their symptoms are often dismissed as nothing more than digestive problems or anxiety.

While the blame for this delay can’t be placed 100% on doctors (a doctor likely won’t think “heart attack” when assessing a seemingly healthy woman complaining only of nausea and fatigue), clinicians should always keep in the back of their mind that women may present with heart attacks differently than men. When taking a patient’s history, it’s essential to assess whether a given individual is at risk for heart disease and to factor that into any given diagnosis. In addition, symptoms that do not seem to go away or continue to worsen should always be evaluated further for an underlying cause.

If A Diagnosis Is Delayed, Can It Be Considered Doctor Negligence?

While most heart attack victims are evaluated and treated quickly, the vague symptoms experienced by many women can make it harder to determine that a heart attack has occurred. In addition, women are more likely to dismiss or minimize their symptoms than men, making a quick diagnosis even more difficult.

That said, when a woman goes to a doctor because she’s concerned by the symptoms she’s experiencing, she should expect that the doctor will find out what’s wrong rather than completely dismissing her symptoms. Heart disease risk should be assessed at routine medical visits, and doctors should be aware that women can often present with non-specific symptoms. If a reasonable clinician following current treatment guidelines should have suspected a heart attack, then a case can be made for medical malpractice if treatment was delayed or symptoms were downplayed or ignored.

Why Choose Ross Feller Casey?

If you or a loved one experienced a heart attack and your symptoms were misdiagnosed or ignored, then you may be entitled to compensation through a medical malpractice lawsuit. While it’s true that women may experience different symptoms than men, that’s no excuse for a woman’s symptoms to be downplayed or ignored. Don’t delay in seeking legal advice.

The legal team at Ross Feller Casey has extensive experience with all types of medical malpractice, including cases related to delayed treatment of heart attacks. Our team of doctors and lawyers will work together to determine whether your heart attack should have been identified earlier and whether a different doctor would have promptly provided the appropriate treatment. If you believe a doctor’s negligence contributed to a catastrophic injury or death due to a heart attack, contact our office for a free consultation.

Ross Feller Casey handles all cases on a contingency basis, including those involving the delayed diagnosis and treatment of a heart attack. That means you will not pay a thing until a financial recovery is made in your case.

Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.