Early heart attack warning symptoms

girl_sunWhat most people don’t know is that the warning symptoms are different for women.

Here are some myth busters:

  • 37% of Canadian women perceive breast cancer to be the greatest problem, compared to 13% for heart disease
  • Heart disease and stroke kill 7 times as many women as breast cancer;
  • Heart disease and stroke are responsible for the death of 1 in 3 women;
  • Heart attacks and strokes are responsible for twice as many deaths in women as all cancers combined

Immediate warning symptoms in women

The following are immediate warning symptoms of a heart attack in women; in other words, if you are currently experiencing a heart attack, you may be feeling:

  • Chest pain: While men having a heart attack often report a stabbing pain in their chest, many women say they felt pressure, tightness or aching in their chest or back;
  • Fatigue: Overwhelming fatigue that makes it hard to do anything;
  • Breathing difficulties: It’s suddenly a struggle to take a full breath;
  • Radiating pain: Pain spreads across the jaw, arm, shoulder or across the back; and
  • Less common symptoms: Cold sweat, flushed in face, nausea, vomiting, dizziness

If you are experiencing these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately for emergency medical services.

Early warning symptoms in women

The following are early warning symptoms of a heart attack in women; in other words, if you are at risk of potentially having a heart attack in the near or distant future, you may be feeling:

  • Fatigue: At 70 per cent, unusual fatigue is the most common;
  • Sleep difficulties: Trouble falling asleep, or waking up in the night more than usual, often because of pain that won’t let you sleep;
  • Shortness of breath: Becoming winded doing the most basic activities, but especially during exercise;
  • Indigestion: Feeling uncomfortably full soon after eating, sometimes with pain or burning in the upper abdomen;
  • Chest discomfort: It may be mild discomfort or seem like indigestion;
  • Anxiety: Feeling nervous or apprehensive for no apparent reason, or more than usual; and
  • Less common symptoms: discomfort in the shoulder area, more frequent or severe headaches, dizziness, and blurred vision.

What are the warning symptoms for men? What is a heart attack? How can physiotherapy help you if you’ve had one? Find all the answers here.


By: Kerry Kittson, PT
Practice & Policy Coordinator, Canadian Physiotherapy Association