6 Common Thoughts That Could Actually Mean Heart Attack

A recent study found that paramedics generally take longer transporting women to the hospital than men. The difference? Women often suffer from six sneaky heart disease symptoms that even professionals can miss:

You think: “I’m really out of shape.”

Think again: Suddenly you must take a breather in the middle of your usual morning walk. Or you can’t go up a flight of stairs at home without feeling winded. “A huge red flag is when a woman tells me she can’t exercise like she used to,” says Mary Ann Bauman, MD, an American Heart Association (AHA) spokeswoman.

You think: “It must have been something I ate.”

Think again: Eating a slice of pepperoni pizza brings on a sharp burning sensation in your chest, near your breastbone or ribs. Is the pain heartburn, or a sneaky symptom of a heart attack?

If you take a Tums and it completely goes away, it’s probably not your heart. But if that heartburn comes with other telltale symptoms, such as shortness of breath, sweating or arm pain, it might be a heart attack. Other red flags are heartburn that doesn’t get better with antacid remedies and a burning sensation in your chest during exercise.

You think: “It’s just another hot flash.”

Think again: If you’re premenopausal, you could chalk up the red, flushed face and beads of sweat gathering on your brow to “the change,” but suddenly feeling clammy and sweaty is also a red flag you might be having a heart attack. 

During menopause, when you’re losing your estrogen, you can be at high risk for a heart attack if you have a strong family disposition for coronary disease. Dial 911 if sweatiness is accompanied by other symptoms, such as nausea, jaw pain, shortness of breath or heartburn.

You think: “I’m having an anxiety attack.”

Think again: Hearing about company layoffs, you feel so anxious it’s difficult to breathe as your heart pounds madly and indigestion grips your gut. Panic attack or heart attack?
Shortness of breath, anxiety, palpitations and indigestion are symptoms of both. 


Women with heart disease often feel very anxious and nervous, with a sense of impending doom. The AHA advises not to wait longer than five minutes before calling 911 for help if you have these warning signs.

You think: “It must be the flu.”

Think again: A heart attack can masquerade as the flu, leaving you feeling queasy and lightheaded and breaking out in a cold sweat. Many people have nausea and vomiting when they’re actually having a heart attack. If it’s a new symptom, that’s a big red flag and maybe this isn’t nausea or reflux, but a heart attack.

You think: “My heart just skips a beat.”

Think again:  If your heart’s all aflutter, don’t just chalk it up to stress, that double expresso you drank or even falling in love. You may be experiencing atrial fibrillation, one of the most common heart rhythm disorders in the United States. 

The most common symptom is the fluttering sensation of a racing heart – also called palpitations. With or without that sensation, a person might become short of breath, or suddenly feel fatigued or lightheaded. 

Some people may faint during an episode. While arrhythmias can occur in healthy hearts and be of minimal consequence, in some cases the condition can lead to sudden cardiac death or stroke. So if your heart flutters, tell your doctor.

Take It To Heart

Of course, women can also experience the classic heart disease symptoms frequently suffered by men:

·         Chest discomfort that lasts for more than a few minutes, goes away and then comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

·         Discomfort in other areas of the upper body: both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
·         Shortness of breath (with or without chest discomfort).

Whether you have sneaky or classic heart disease symptoms, pay close attention and seek immediate medical care. Act like a private eye and pay attention to when the symptoms happen, how long they last, what makes them better, what you were doing at the time and what makes them worse. That’s an important way to get your doctor’s or the paramedics’ attention, because that’s how they think about it.

How Gwinnett Medical Center Can Help


From diagnosing heart disease to treating cardiovascular conditions, GMC has provided expert care for more than 20 years. Learn more at gmcheart.com.

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