A heart attack is a medical emergency, with similar symptoms in males and females. However, certain symptoms may be more common, depending on a person’s sex.
This article explores the symptoms of a heart attack for males and females, risk factors, and ways to prevent them.
A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to the heart becomes blocked. Several symptoms may indicate a heart attack. These are:
- Chest discomfort or pain: A person may experience pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of their chest. This may come and go or persist for more than a few minutes.
- Pain or discomfort in other body parts: A person may also experience pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the stomach, jaw, back, or neck.
- Shortness of breath: A person may feel a shortness of breath with or without chest pain.
Some other heart attack symptoms may include:
- cold sweat
- feeling light-headed
- heart palpitations
- sleep disturbances
A 2019 study says the most common heart attack symptom is chest pain.
However, the study notes that males are more likely to experience less common symptoms, such as heartburn, back pain, or indigestion-like pain.
On the other hand, females may be more likely to experience a general feeling of unwellness or unexplained weakness.
Research suggests females may also feel throat pain, neck pain, and nausea more frequently than males.
Risk factors of a heart attack are similar between males and females. The American Heart Foundation list the following as risk factors:
- increasing age
- being male
- parents with heart disease
- high cholesterol
- high blood pressure
- physical inactivity
- living with obesity
- alcohol intake
A 2018 study looks at the differences between males and females in depression levels and rates of complications following a heart attack.
They found females were more likely to develop depressive symptoms and were more likely to experience complications.
Some of the more common complications that people may experience after a heart attack include:
- Arrhythmias: Sometimes, a heart attack may disrupt the natural electrical rhythm of the heart, leading to arrhythmias. In these cases, a person may require a pacemaker until the rhythm returns to normal.
- Angina: A heart attack may damage blood vessels, resulting in the heart not getting enough blood supply. Doctors refer to this pain as angina and may prescribe medication to help prevent flare-ups.
- Heart failure: If a heart attack causes severe damage, a person may experience heart failure. Treatments for this include heart surgery or installing a pacemaker.
Some of the risk factors associated with heart attacks are not reversible, such as sex and genetic risk of heart disease.
However, a person can lower their risk of a heart attack by focusing on lifestyle changes, such as:
- Reducing or limiting alcohol intake: Low-to-moderate intake of alcohol may have some benefits for heart health. However, excessive drinking can damage the heart.
- Regularly exercising: Regular physical activity reduces blood pressure and the risk of death from a heart attack.
- Adopting a Mediterranean diet: Research suggests that people who consume Mediterranean diets may have better heart health.
- Stopping smoking: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute note that the risk of heart problems decrease soon after people quit smoking. This risk continues to decline over time.
- Losing weight: Researchers link obesity to cardiovascular issues. Therefore, losing weight may reduce the risk of a heart attack.
A heart attack is a medical emergency. If a person shows symptoms of one, they should seek medical help immediately.
The American College of Cardiology Foundation note that 50% of people who experience a heart attack have early symptoms.
By seeking help in the early stages, a person could reduce their risk of developing heart damage.
Generally, males and females experience similar heart attack symptoms, which include chest pain or shortness of breath.
However, males are also more likely to experience heart pain, back pain, or a feeling of indigestion. Meanwhile, females are more likely to experience a sensation of unwellness and unexplained weakness.
People cannot change all their risk factors for a heart attack. However, they can lower their likelihood by adopting a healthful lifestyle, engaging in regular physical activity, stopping smoking, and limiting alcohol consumption.