Heart disease kills around 600,000 people each year in the United States.  It is the leading cause of death in men and women and kills more people than the top three most deadly and common cancers combined. Cardiovascular disease can sneak up on you so being able to recognize some heart attack symptoms that are not as common, especially in women, could save your life.

Unusual Heart Attack Symptoms

In the movies someone having a heart attack gasps, clutches their chest, moans, and collapses. In real life heart attack symptoms can be much less dramatic and pain is not always centered in the chest over the heart.  Less obvious symptoms of a heart attack include:

Jaw Pain

Often mistaken for stress or grinding one’s teeth during sleep, jaw pain can be a sign of a heart attack. Women in particular suffer this symptom more than men and are quick to write it off as stress and anxiety and not of an impending heart attack. Worse yet, sometimes even doctors fail to recognize this as a common sign of heart attack in women, which delays treatment and can cause further damage to the heart.

Back Pain

Most people don’t think heart attack when their back is hurting. They think an impending heart attack will cause pain in the chest and radiate down the left arm. This is more common for men. Women often suffer back pain when having a heart attack, but may think it is from sleeping incorrectly or from heavy lifting.


Shortness of Breath

Suddenly feeling out of breath does not automatically indicate an asthma attack or that you are out of shape.  Women, more so than men, will experience sudden breathlessness or difficulty breathing when having a heart attack. That is why women and heart attack symptoms must be examined. Too often it is dismissed as an anxiety attack and again, that can cause a delay in proper treatment.

Other Men and Women Heart Attack Symptoms

Some other symptoms of a heart attack that are missed because they seem unrelated to a heart problem are:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Nausea, vomiting or stomach pain
  • Pain radiating down both arms
  • Sweating profusely even when at rest


Since all of these symptoms from jaw pain to sweating can be symptoms of a heart attack, men and women who are at risk for cardiovascular disease should seek medical help immediately. Women who think they are experiencing a heart attack should not accept a diagnosis of an anxiety attack or flu and insist on being evaluated for a heart attack.