The symptoms of a heart attack can vary between people assigned male and female at birth.

Heart attacks, also called myocardial infarctions, can present with typical and atypical signs and symptoms. Generally, males tend to present with typical symptoms, while females are more likely to present with atypical symptoms. The main overall complaint is chest pain, but females are more likely to have additional symptoms.

Differences in presentation can lead people to have difficulty recognizing when a heart attack is occurring. This can cause a delay in treatment and potentially worsen people’s outcomes.

This article reviews the differences in heart attack symptoms in males and females, what to do if a heart attack occurs, common risk factors for a heart attack, and more.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Heart attack symptoms tend to follow a more typical path in males than in females, according to a 2023 study.

The researchers note that males are likely to experience chest, arm, or jaw pain that may be dull, heavy, tight, or crushing.

Males also report chest pain as the predominant complaint about 13–15% more frequently than females. This may be due to the questions they answer during intake at the hospital.

A 2020 study found evidence that suggests male adults under the age of 50 years have a higher chance of survival following a heart attack compared with females of a similar age. The authors note that males were more likely to leave the hospital with more guideline-directed therapies that included different medications, such as aspirin and beta blockers.

Learn more about heart attack symptoms in males.

Females have a higher chance of developing more atypical symptoms of a heart attack.

According to a 2023 review, both males and females report developing chest pain and discomfort. However, females have a higher chance of developing symptoms that include:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that heart disease is the leading cause of death in females. Doctors also have a higher chance of missing a diagnosis of a heart attack in females.

According to a 2020 study, the higher rate of misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis may relate not just to the presentation of atypical symptoms but also to the combination and pattern in which they present.

The researchers found that females presented with several unique patterns. This may help improve the training and education of doctors in the future.

Learn more about heart attack symptoms in females.

When heart attack symptoms occur, a person should call 911 immediately. This is typically the fastest way to begin treatment.

When paramedics arrive, they can begin administering treatment if they suspect the person is having a heart attack.

Research from 2003 suggests that treatment from paramedics improves outcomes and survival rates among people with heart disease. The CDC and the American Heart Association also suggest that emergency services professionals can help improve outcomes after a heart attack.

A bystander or companion may need to provide CPR or deliver an electrical shock, also called defibrillation, to a person’s heart until members of the emergency services arrive.

Click here for a complete guide on how to perform CPR.

Several factors can increase a person’s risk of having a heart attack. People may be able to take steps to minimize certain risk factors.

Risk factors can include:

  • an unhealthy diet
  • the presence of underlying health conditions, such as high blood pressure
  • low physical activity levels
  • a family history of heart disease
  • older age

According to survey data from 1999–2010, about 47% of people in the United States had one of the three most significant risk factors for cardiovascular disease, which include:

More recent studies identify similar risk factors and add that obesity, another risk factor, is prevalent in countries such as the U.S.

Some preventive steps a person can take to reduce their risk of heart attack include:

  • quitting smoking, if applicable
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • eating a heart-healthy diet
  • exercising regularly
  • taking steps to manage stress as much as possible
  • treating high blood pressure and high cholesterol
  • managing any chronic conditions, such as diabetes

The following sections provide answers to common questions about heart attacks.

What are the symptoms of a “mini” heart attack in a male?

People may refer to a heart attack that results from a partial artery blockage rather than a complete blockage as a mini or minor heart attack. However, this is not a medical term.

Symptoms of a heart attack from a partial artery blockage in a male resemble those of a heart attack from a complete blockage. They can include:

  • pain in the chest that lasts more than 10 minutes
  • pain that radiates to either the arm, neck, or jaw
  • nausea or vomiting
  • fainting
  • shortness of breath
  • heavy sweating
  • fatigue

How long can a female have symptoms before a heart attack?

A study from 2003 involving more than 500 female participants suggests that 95% had at least one symptom in the 4 weeks leading up to their heart attack.

What is a “silent” heart attack?

Some possible signs of a silent heart attack include:

These symptoms may vary between people. They may go away quickly or within a few minutes.

Heart attacks can cause similar symptoms in all people. However, people assigned female at birth have a higher chance of experiencing atypical signs and symptoms. Doctors are also more likely to miss the diagnosis of a heart attack in females.

Any person may experience chest pain or discomfort during a heart attack, but those assigned male at birth tend to report chest pain more frequently. They are also more likely to receive follow-up care.

A person should call 911 if they believe they or someone in their vicinity may be experiencing a heart attack. Paramedics can provide prompt care at the scene and on the way to the hospital.