Women's symptoms may occur more often when women are resting, or even when they're asleep. Mental stress also may trigger heart attack symptoms in women.
Women tend to show up in emergency rooms after heart damage has already occurred because their symptoms are not those usually associated with a heart attack, and because women may downplay their symptoms. If you experience these symptoms or think you're having a heart attack, call for emergency medical help immediately. Don't drive yourself to the emergency room unless you have no other options.
Although several traditional risk factors for coronary artery disease -- such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity -- affect women and men, other factors may play a bigger role in the development of heart disease in women. For example, risk factors may include:
Diabetes. Women with diabetes are at greater risk of heart disease than are men with diabetes.
Mental stress and depression. Women's hearts are affected by stress and depression more than men's. Depression makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow recommended treatment, so talk to your doctor if you're having symptoms of depression.
Smoking. In women, smoking is a greater risk factor for heart disease in women than it is in men.
Inactivity. A lack of physical activity is a major risk factor for heart disease, and some research has found women to be more inactive than men.
Menopause. Low levels of estrogen after menopause pose a significant risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease in the smaller blood vessels (coronary microvascular disease).
Broken heart syndrome. This condition -- often brought on by stressful situations that can cause severe, but usually temporary, heart muscle failure -- occurs more commonly in women after menopause. This condition may also be called takotsubo cardiomyopathy, apical ballooning syndrome or stress cardiomyopathy.
Pregnancy complications. High blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy can increase women's long-term risk of high blood pressure and diabetes and increase the risk of development of heart disease in the mothers. Some research has found that if you had pregnancy complications such as high blood pressure or diabetes your children may also have an increased risk of heart disease in the future.