The notion that heart attacks strike only steak-eating, cigar-smoking, nose-to-the-grindstone men in their late middle ages once prevailed. Although it afflicts women in almost equal measure, especially those 50 and older, heart disease used to be seen a man's predicament. Thankfully, research and awareness campaigns such as Go Red for Women have brought attention to the fact that women are nearly as prone as to heart attack as men are, if not more so since they're likely to miss or dismiss the signs of a heart attack and suffer symptoms that differ from the typical scenario. Here is a breakdown of the top heart attack indicators and what research has discovered about how each gender experiences them. 

Chest pain: This is a key heart attack symptom for men and a majority of women as well, but for women suffering atypical symptoms, chest pain is not a primary indicator. In fact, according to research published in the November 2003 issue of Circulation, acute chest pain was nonexistent in 43 percent of the women participating in the study.[1]

Shortness of breath, weakness and/or dizziness, and extraordinary fatigue: In the same Circulation study, these heart attack symptoms were the most reported among the test subjects by 57.9 percent, 54.8 percent, and 42.9 percent, respectively.[2] Such signs are indicative of microvascular disease (MVD), in which the heart's tiny blood vessels are diseased or damaged and eventually prevent the flow of blood to the heart muscle. Researchers have found that women are more prone to MVD, a fact that is possibly attributable to the drop in estrogen that takes place after menopause.

Nausea and back and/or jaw pain: Researchers at the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center revealed in a May 2008 online edition of Heart that women who didn't have acute chest pain were more likely to suffer symptoms like nausea and pain in the back and/or jaw, heart attack signs that are often triggered by angina;[3] chest pain can radiate to parts of the upper body like the shoulders and arms, even as high as the jaw, and is sometimes confused with indigestion as well. The Heart study also found that women's angiograms, an imaging test that uses X-rays to provide an assessment of blood vessel function, were twice as likely to find no serious blockages, even though the women had obviously suffered a major heart attack or unstable angina.

A final note: According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, about half of the 550,000 people who die of a heart attack each year do so within an hour of when the first symptoms surface, so if you experience a combination of the abovementioned symptoms, do not hesitate in getting yourself to the emergency room.

[1] Jean C. McSweeney, Marisue Cody, Patricia O'Sullivan, Karen Elberson, Debra K.Moser, Bonnie J. Garvin, Women's Early Warning Symptoms of Acute Myocardial Infarction, Circulation 2003; 108:2619-2623

[2] Ibid

[3] S Dey, M D Flather, G Devlin, D Brieger, E P Gurfinkel, P G Steg, G FitzGerald, E A Jackson, K A Eagle, Sex-related differences in the presentation, treatment and outcomes among patients with acute coronary syndromes: the Global Registry of Acute Coronary Events, Heart 2009;95:20-26;