Heart disease is still the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., with someone suffering a heart attack or stroke every 40 seconds. But symptoms can differ between men and women.

Symptoms of a heart attack — like the “elephant on the chest” feeling — can be experienced by both men and women. Women, however, may also experience different types of symptoms. According to the American Heart Association, “Women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort, but women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, [and] back and jaw pain.”

Women are also more likely than men to have no symptoms of coronary heart disease. Because of this, coronary heart disease may not be recognized and treated as quickly as it is in men. For women, age becomes a risk factor at 55 when estrogen levels drop after menopause. An overall increase in heart attacks among women is seen about 10 years after menopause.

Menopause does not cause cardiovascular disease; however, certain risk factors increase around this time. A high-fat diet, smoking or other unhealthy lifestyle habits begun earlier in life can take a toll. Family history can also be an indicator if your mother, father or siblings had a heart attack. If you’ve followed a heathy lifestyle and continue doing so at menopause, your risk for heart disease and stroke is lower. Regular exercise, good nutrition and eliminating unhealthy habits like smoking contribute to good heart health.

If you have any of these symptoms, call 911 and get medical help right away:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest which lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and returns.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

Join us for a Medical Center Lecture Series live broadcast at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9, with David Adams, M.D., Cardiac Surgeon-in-Chief, Mount Sinai New York. Dr. Adams will discuss “Making the Right Decision when it Comes to Your Cardiac Intervention.” Visit the Lecture Series page to learn more about Dr. Adams’ presentation and the rest of this season’s series.