Heart attacks in women

At least two Kiwi women die from a heart attack everyday. Do you know the risks and the warning signs? And are women's heart attack symptoms different to those experienced by men?

Heart attacks are often perceived to be a man's problem, but currently more than 900 Kiwi women die from one each year. That's more than two Kiwi women a day losing their life to a heart attack and heart disease more generally remains the single biggest killer of New Zealand women. There are currently more than 65,000 New Zealand women living with heart disease.

What causes a heart attack in women?

The causes of heart attack in women is the same as it is in men. You can read more about those causes on our heart attack page.

Heart attack symptoms in women

Nearly two-thirds of deaths from heart attacks in women occur among those who have no history of chest pain. Unfortunately women tend to wait longer than men to call for an ambulance after experiencing heart attack warning signs. But the sooner you get treatment, the less damage to your heart.

If you think you are experiencing any symptoms of a heart attack call 111 immediately.

As with men, the heart attack symptoms you may experience as a woman may not be the crushing chest pain you might expect. If you've already had one heart attack, the warning signs you experience for a second or third may be different to your first. If you experience any of these symptoms, you may be having a heart attack:

Are you experiencing... In any of these areas? You may also experience:
  • heaviness
  • tightness
  • pressure
  • discomfort/pain
  • chest
  • shoulder
  • jaw
  • arm
  • neck
  • upper back
  • abdominal
  • sweating
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea, vomiting, or indigestion
  • unusual fatigue
  • light-headedness or dizziness
  • pain that comes and goes

Do women experience different heart attack symptoms?

It is important to remember that everyone (male or female) experiences different heart attack symptoms. The symptoms of a subsequent heart attack may be different from the first.

Women appear more likely than men to experience heart attack symptoms without chest discomfort. If they do have tightness, pressure or discomfort in the chest, this discomfort may not always be severe or even the most noticeable symptom.

Sometimes a person can have no heart attack symptoms at all. In these cases the heart attack isn't diagnosed until it is picked up by a clinician at a later date. This is sometimes called a silent heart attack.

Do heart attack symptoms for women differ according to age?

People sometimes wonder if the sign of a heart attack in older women are different to signs of a heart attack in younger women, but this is not the case. The important thing to remember is that no two heart attacks are alike, so everyone and every heart attack can have different symptoms.

Heart attack treatment for women

The treatment for heart attack in women is the same as it is for men. However sometimes women don't receive treatment as quickly as men do. A recent study in the United Kingdom showed that women having a heart attack were 50% more likely than men to be misdiagnosed, leading to a delay in treatment and poorer outcomes for women.

Heart attack risk factors in women

There are a number of factors that are known to increase your risk of coronary heart disease and having a heart attack. These are called risk factors.

Women share largely the same risk factors for heart disease as men. These include:

However women are more vulnerable to some of the risk factors than men. Heart disease tends to occur slightly later in women because a woman's risk increases as she goes through menopause. Women also have some risks related to pregnancy and hormonal dysfunction.