Know the symptoms: Heart attacks are number one killer of women


SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) – Men experience more heart attacks compared to women, but women are less likely to survive.

One woman dies from a heart attack every minute.

As we continue to support heart disease awareness for American Heart Month, health expert, Karen Owoc, explains why heart attacks are the number one killer of women.


  • Men experience heart attacks at a younger age compared to women.
  • On average, men have their first heart attack at age 65 with women having their first heart attack at 72.
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both sexes. It is responsible for one in every three deaths for both men and women.
  • Women are less likely than men to survive a heart attack, and heart disease continues to be UNDER RECOGNIZED as the leading cause of death in women.


  • Atypical symptoms
  • Minimize their symptoms and delay seeking medical attention
  • Average delay time of 54 hours for women vs 16 hours for men
  • Some women go undiagnosed for so long that by the time their disease is confirmed, they are older, sicker, and at higher risk for complications from invasive treatments making them more likely to die from a heart attack than men.


  • “First Medical Contact (FMC)-to-Device Time” (based on American College of Cardiology guidelines) means the time from first medical contact in ANY PREHOSPITAL LOCATION. Devices include coronary interventions, e.g., balloons, coronary stents, wires, etc.

The goal is less than 90 minutes to increase the survival rate

  • At the first symptom of a heart attack, it’s critical to administer heart attack “first aid” and be at the hospital within 30 minutes OR LESS to prevent irreversible heart damage or death.
  • It’ll take another 30 minutes for the cardiology team to mobilize.
  • Then 30 minutes from the start of the procedure to opening the blocked artery.


Female heart attacks don’t often present like those in men nor are they as predictable.

  • For example, a Circulation study showed that 43% of women do NOT experience acute chest pain at all during a heart attack which is a hallmark sign in men.
  • Women 55 and younger were 7X more likely to be misdiagnosed and discharged from the Emergency Department in mid-heart attack compared to men. ( New England Journal of Medicine.)


Major symptoms in women more than one month prior to a heart attack:

  • Unusual fatigue (70.7%) that may even feel like the onset of the flu
  • Difficulty sleeping (47.8%)
  • Shortness of breath (42.1%)
  • Chest discomfort (29.7%) and many experienced NO chest pain
  • Indigestion
  • Anxiety

Major symptoms in women during a heart attack:

  • Shortness of breath (57.9%)
  • Weakness (54.8%), fatigue (42.9%), dizziness
  • Back pain
  • Upper abdominal pressure or discomfort (like indigestion), nausea or vomiting
  • Cold, clammy sweat

What to Do

  • CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY at the first symptom! The longer you wait, the longer the heart attack continues.
  • Administer heart attack “First Aid”
  • NEVER drive yourself to the hospital.

The Takeaway: Don’t dismiss symptoms as something minor or try to ‘tough it out’. Be assertive and persistent. Remember, many doctors still don’t recognize female heart attack symptoms. In the ED, tell the triage nurse you need to be seen by a cardiologist. Know the symptoms, know your risk factors, and pass this information on to women you know.

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