health

Women, Go To The ER If You Have Sudden Jaw Pain — It May Be A Sign Of Heart Attack

by Rebecca Endicott
Becca is a writer and aspirational dog owner living in NYC.

We all know that heart attacks are a major medical danger, but did you know that a female heart attack might look totally different from a male heart attack?

Heart attacks impact 1.5 million Americans every year, killing roughly half a million.

There are definitely risk factors for heart attack — like high body weight, high cholesterol, diabetes, and age — but heart attacks can also impact people who have no signs or risk factors at all.

Some forms of heart attack, like SCAD, affect healthy young people. Others masquerade as indigestion or heartburn.

In fact, heart attacks are masters of disguise, and can manifest with dramatic differences from person to person.We tend to think of a heart attack as a condition that impacts men more than women, but that simply isn’t the case.

The fact of the matter is that heart disease (including a female heart attack) is the leading cause of death in women of all ages and ethnicities. When heart attacks strike women, they tend to look dramatically different from the same disease in men.

Scroll through to learn which signs to watch out for.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Wikimedia Commons

What Is A Heart Attack?

<u>What Is A Heart Attack?</u>
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Every year in the United States, 1.5 million people suffer from heart attacks. About one third of these heart attacks will result in death.

Everyone knows that a heart attack makes your heart stop working, but most people don’t know exactly what happens to your heart and blood vessels during an attack.

In most cases, a heart attack is brought on when a coronary artery (one of the main arteries supplying blood to the heart) is blocked with plaque or a clot. This cuts off oxygen-rich blood flow to the heart and the rest of the body in turn. It also causes damage to the heart itself, because the organ is starved of oxygen.

Some heart attacks are brought on by aneurysm or coronary artery dissection as well.

Why Do Men And Women Have Different Heart Attack Symptoms?

<u>Why Do Men And Women Have Different Heart Attack Symptoms?</u>
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

There are a lot of reasons that men and women have different heart attack symptoms.

For one thing, approximately half of female heart attacks are “typical,” meaning that they have the same symptoms that we normally associate with male heart attacks.

However, women are more likely than men to have “atypical” heart attacks, which don’t fit the common stereotype that we’re all familiar with.

Women may also have higher pain tolerance than men, and are more likely to dismiss symptoms or try to suffer through them and see if they pass.

Again, it’s important to note that in many cases, women will experience traditional symptoms.

These include:

  • Crushing chest pain
  • Pain and numbness in arm
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting

What Symptoms Of Heart Attacks Are Unique To Women?
Symptom #1: Back Pain

<u>What Symptoms Of Heart Attacks Are Unique To Women?</u><br>Symptom #1: Back Pain
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Normally, we think of chest pain as the main symptom of heart attacks.

However, in a lot of cases, women will actually experience referred pain in their backs, possibly after dismissing earlier chest pain as something minor.

The blockage in the chest refers pain to the upper back, often described as a deep aching or stabbing sensation between the shoulder blades.

This symptom feels different from the more typical pain of a strained muscle or tweaked spine, and will often feel deep and penetrating.

Symptom #2: Shortness Of Breath

Symptom #2: Shortness Of Breath
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

When women have heart attacks, they are much more likely to experience shortness of breath than men. However, that doesn’t mean you should panic every time you get winded walking up a long flight of stairs, as that’s totally normal.

What you want to watch out for is feeling incredibly short of breath for no reason.

If you’re sitting on the couch and suddenly start panting like you just ran a mile, call 911 at once.

That kind of respiratory distress may signal a heart attack that is impacting your lungs and throat.

Symptom #3: Jaw Pain

Symptom #3: Jaw Pain
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Pay very close attention to your jaw and teeth. If you experience radiating pain along your jawbone, it may be a sign of cardiac distress.

Dr. Larry Weinrauch is quick to note that most cases of tooth and jaw pain are just related to TMJ, tightness in the jaw that often presents with tooth grinding. If chewing, clenching, or moving your jaw aggravates the pain, it’s probably not a heart condition.

However, if you experience jaw pain while exerting yourself (say, at the gym or on a walk) or experience it in conjunction with shortness of breath or other classic symptoms, get medical assistance right away.

As with back pain, women are more likely to experience referred pain in the jaw as an early symptom.

Symptom #4: Squeezing Sensation

Symptom #4: Squeezing Sensation
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

You’ve probably heard that a heart attack feels like “an elephant sitting on your chest.”

That colorful metaphor is usually taken as a description of chest pain, but can also refer to chest pressure, which may be present in women. 

Pay close attention to your body. If your chest starts to feel uncomfortable, it may not necessarily feel painful straightaway.

Instead, it might feel like you’re being squeezed in a very tight tube around your torso.

You may also feel a sensation like someone is pushing very firmly on your chest or like there’s a heavy weight on it.

Women may ignore this symptom because it’s not technically the classic “chest pain” warning sign, but it’s very closely related.

Symptom #5: Cold Sweat

Symptom #5: Cold Sweat
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

“Cold sweat” is a colloquial term that refers to any kind of sweating not caused by heat or exertion. It may instead be caused by anxiety, fear, or illness.

Breaking out in a cold sweat may also be a good early indicator of a heart attack.

If you aren’t moving around,  aren’t in a state of heightened stress, and don’t have a specific, fever-inducing illness already, a sudden bout of sweating indicates that something is going wrong in your body.

Sweating is the symptom that is most likely to make people take their illness seriously and go to the hospital, but women are more likely to ignore it. This is especially true of menopausal women, who might attribute the sweating to a hot flash.

If you experience sweating without a good cause, it is always safer to consult with a doctor.

Symptom #6: Dizziness And Lightheadedness

Symptom #6: Dizziness And Lightheadedness
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Pay close attention to any sensations of dizziness, faintness, or lightheadedness.

If you don’t have a preexisting condition or medication that causes these symptoms, it may be a warning sign that your heart isn’t working right. Dizziness can indicate that the heart is failing to provide adequate blood to the brain.

Be aware that a lot of medications for people with heart conditions also cause dizziness and lightheadedness.

Still, it’s important to watch out for sudden waves of these sensations, especially accompanied by other heart attack symptoms. Dizziness + sweating + jaw pain = a trip to the ER.

In fact, if you have any of these symptoms, it’s safest to get them checked out by a doctor rather than putting it off to avoid inconveniencing anyone.

It’s also important to note that atypical symptoms are more common in women, but they can affect men, too.

Make sure to SHARE this important list with every woman you know. Knowing these signs could make a lifesaving difference one day.