How to Tell if It's a Heart Attack

Know the warning signs of a heart attack.

By Jenilee Matz, MPH, Staff Writer

You'll know when you're having a heart attack by that telltale elephant-sitting-on-your-chest feeling, right? Maybe, but not always.

Some heart attacks start slowly. You may have some mild chest pain or discomfort. You may not think you're having a heart attack and wait too long to get help.

Heart attack symptoms:

In women, like men, the most common symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are more likely than men to have other symptoms, including:

What you should do if you think you're having a heart attack:

Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Women often think of heart disease as a man's disease because men tend to develop it 10 years earlier than women. Yet once a woman reaches menopause, she catches up and even exceeds a man's risk. That's because estrogen, which protects women against heart disease, drops in menopause.

Women's heart attacks are more damaging
Women's heart attacks tend to be more damaging and more likely to happen again than men's. Also, women generally don't do as well with bypass surgery as men do.

No one knows exactly why the scales seem to be tipped against women. One theory is that, because women develop heart disease at a later age than men, they usually have other health problems.

How can you help prevent a heart attack?