Heart attacks are the leading cause of death for U.S. women.1

Surprised? So are over 50% of U.S. women.1

Women have a higher risk of the heart diseases that cause heart attacks.1 But when a heart attack happens, men and women often have different symptoms.2 As a result, women frequently dismiss symptoms they don’t recognize as a heart attack, which is alarming.2,3

Heart attacks can be obvious—and they can also be sneaky. People might not have the “typical” signs and symptoms when a heart attack occurs. Some of the better-known heart attack symptoms include:2,3,4,5,9

  • Squeezing chest pressure or pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stiffness or pain in the jaw, neck, shoulder or back pain
  • Pain down the left arm
  • Cold sweats

It turns out that more men than women have symptoms like these. In women, there are also other heart attack symptoms that aren’t as widely known but are just as serious.2 Women in particular should be aware of symptoms that include:2,3,5

  • Pain or uncomfortable pressure, fullness or squeezing in the center of the chest or upper back
  • Pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms
  • Fainting
  • Indigestion
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Shortness of breath—not necessarily with chest pain

Since these symptoms are less familiar, women are apt to dismiss them as something else like normal aging, acid reflux or the flu.5 Don’t write it off—it’s better to act than to wait and react.

Why heart attacks happen

A heart attack occurs when the flow of oxygen-rich blood that feeds the heart muscle is partially or completely blocked.4 Your heart is a muscle, and muscles need oxygen to work.4 When the blood flow to your heart is reduced or cut off, your heart can’t get the oxygen it needs to pump blood through your body.4

To back up one step, let’s look at why the blood isn’t flowing like it used to. As we age, our coronary arteries can start to gather a buildup of plaque, which is made up of fat, cholesterol and other substances.4 This buildup process is called atherosclerosis.4 Over time, the plaque on the walls of the arteries can cause them to narrow, so less blood can flow.4 If the plaque breaks free, your body’s natural response is to create a clot around it.4 A clot can reduce or block the blood flow through the artery to the heart.4

The takeaway is this: What’s happening inside your arteries affects the blood flow to your heart. If there’s a block, it can cause a heart attack.

If you think you’re having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. 
Do not drive yourself to the doctor or hospital.
Sit down, rest and take deep, slow breaths while you wait for help to arrive.2

Have questions about your heart health? You can see a primary care doctor quickly and conveniently with a Teladoc Health virtual visit. Create your Teladoc Health account to learn more about Primary Care services available to you.

Schedule my virtual visit

It’s estimated that about 20% of heart attacks occur with few or no recognized symptoms.6 Women and people with diabetes are more likely to have a silent or unrecognized heart attack.6 Knowing about the symptoms can help you recognize if it’s happening to you so you can get help faster.

Even if you’re on the younger side, it’s a good idea to be aware of your general risk factors for heart disease. These risk factors can affect how easily your blood circulates to your heart. Some of the more common risk factors include:7

  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity

Over time, the rates of these risk factors have changed for young adults in the U.S. For example, from 2009-2020, rates of smoking and high cholesterol decreased in young adults.7 However, rates of diabetes and obesity increased for young adults during the same period.7

The good news is that women and men can modify their risk factors to reduce their chances of heart disease.

 How to reduce your heart disease risks

  • Quit smoking, including vaping and tobacco use. This alone can cut your risk of heart disease by 50%.5
  • Get active. Strive for 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity (such as brisk walking) or 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity (such as jogging). Add some strength training, like resistance or weight training, at least twice a week.5,8 Note: Before you start any new exercise routine, talk to your doctor to make sure it’s safe.
  • Modify your menu. Work with your doctor, dietitian or care team to make heart-smart choices, such as to manage your cholesterol and lower your salt intake.5,8
  • Know your numbers. Talk with your doctor about your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and other health factors. Learn if and where your numbers fall in the recommended ranges.

Changing behavior is never easy, but the health benefits make it worth the effort. Show your heart some love today!

Online heart health resources

Ready to get a beat on your heart health? We can help. At Teladoc Health, we’ve got chronic condition management programs with tools and support for managing diabetes, hypertension and more. We also have nutrition coaches who can help you optimize a heart-healthy food plan that works for your life. Make your virtual appointment to speak with a specialist right from your home, your office or wherever you’re most comfortable. We’re here to help you get started today!

Try online healthcare now

Published February 6, 2024


This portion of the Teladoc Health website occasionally offers health, fitness and nutritional information and is provided for educational purposes only. You cannot rely on any information provided here as a substitute for or replacement of professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Teladoc Health cannot assure that the information contained on this site always includes the most recent findings or developments with respect to the particular subject matter covered.

If you ever have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional. Do not disregard, avoid or delay obtaining medical- or health-related advice from your healthcare professional because of something you may have read on this site. The use of any information provided on this site is solely at your own risk.

If you are in the United States and think you are having a medical or health emergency, call your healthcare professional, or 911, immediately.