Early Heart Attack Warning Symptoms

What 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.



Kerry Kittson, PT
Canadian Physiotherapy Association

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The Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA) represents physiotherapists, physiotherapist assistants and physiotherapist students across Canada. CPA members are rehabilitation professionals dedicated to the health, mobility and fitness of Canadians.

Physiotherapists are primary health care professionals who combine their in-depth knowledge of the body and how it works with specialized hands-on clinical skills to assess, diagnose and treat symptoms of illness, injury or disability.

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The CPA presents its educational references as a public service and for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the opinions of the CPA membership.