Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus- and so are Their Hearts: Gender Differences Affect Signs and Symptoms of Heart Attacks

Heart HealthIt is commonly perceived that heart attacks are a male-oriented occurrence. Despite this notion, heart complications are the overall killer of both male and females in Canada (Ornato and Hand). The risk for men tends to increases by age 45, whereas women are at a lower risk than men until they reach post-menopause at approximately 50 years of age. After this point, the risk of heart attack in women is equal to, or even higher, than the risk seen in men of the same age. Though people under 40 are at lower risk, heart attacks can still occur in younger male and females (Ornato and Hand). Risk factors for both men and women are similar, including age, family history, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and physical inactivity (CDC).

About 435,000 American women have heart attacks each year, with 42% of these women dying within one year of their heart attack. In comparison, only 24% of men die within one year of a heart attack (Dolgen). WebMD states that “no two heart attacks are the same,” as every person, regardless of age and gender, can experience varied symptoms. There are several common symptoms that are fairly reliable indicators of heart attack; however, these symptoms tend to vary between genders.

Women who experience a heart attack are 52% more likely to have at least a 15 minute delay in treatment for heart-attack related 911 calls due to the atypical symptoms experienced by women (Dolgen). Unlike men, women do not necessarily experience chest pain during a heart attack. Instead, common symptoms include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach; shortness of breath (with or without chest discomfort); breaking out into a cold sweat; nausea; and/or lightheadedness. Chest pain may occur, often in the form of pressure, squeezing, or fullness in the center of the chest. This pain may leave and return a few minutes later (American Heart Association).As these symptoms differ greatly from typical male symptoms, many women are unaware that they are having a heart attack, believing they are experiencing less severe issues such as heartburn or the flu (Dolgen). The different symptoms among genders may be due to differences in the nerves that feed the heart as well as a higher pain tolerance in women (Dolgen).

Heart disease in males is responsible for 1 in every 4 deaths in America. Additionally, 1 in every 2 men who die of heart disease did not experience any previous cardiac symptoms or complications (CDC). For males who experience heart attack symptoms, it takes an average of 5 minutes for them to recognize the symptoms and call for assistance. Common male symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain, discomfort, pressure in the chest, and squeezing (WebMD). Unlike the typical male “Hollywood” heart attack, which involves screaming, clutching the chest, and a dropping to the floor, men who experience heart attacks do not always feel severe, dramatic pain (Ornato and Hand). Most male heart attacks are described as initial mild discomfort in the chest, sometimes progressing to a squeezing sensation. After the initial discomfort, the severity of chest pain may increase, or in some cases the discomfort disappears completely (Ornato and Hand). Approximately 10% of males will feel no pain at all, most often seen in men who have diabetes (WebMD).

The best way to avoid heart disease is to make lifestyle changes to decrease your risk factors. The National Institute of Health recommends “The Big 4 Heart Healthy Habits” to reduce risk factors of heart disease. These habits consist of:

  1. Eat a nutritious diet
  2. Exercise regularly
  3. Maintain a healthy weight
  4. Stop smoking

By following these 4 simple heart healthy habits, risk factors can be reduced up to 82%. (National Institute of Health). Remember: A healthy life leads to a healthy heart!

By Kait Kilyk and Kelsey Fallis


American Heart Association (2012).Heart attack symptoms in women. Retrieved on April 2014 from

CDC. (2013). Men and Heart Disease Fact Sheet. Know the Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack. Center for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. Retrieved on April 2014

Dolgen, E., 2013. 6 often missed heart attack signs in women. Retrieved April 2014 from

National Institute of Health (2007). The healthy heart handbook for women. Retrieved on April 2014 from…/handbook-for-women.pdf

Ornato. J and Hand.M., 2001. Warning Signs of a Heart Attack. Cardiology Patient Page. Circulation. CrossMark. 104:1212-1213. Doi:10.1161/hc2501.093258 Retrieved on April 2014 from

WebMD (2013). His Guide to a Heart Attack: Symptoms in Men. Heart Disease Health center. Retrieved April 2014 from

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in blog entries are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Heart Niagara.

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