Skip to main content
Find a DoctorGet Care Now
Skip to main content
Search icon magnifying glass








Cardiac Arrest or a Heart Attack: What’s the Difference?

Doctor explaining the heart

When you think of a heart attack, you probably envision seeing someone clutch their chest in pain and fall to the ground. But heart emergencies don’t always stick to this script – especially in women.

The first thing to remember is this: Cardiac arrest and heart attack are not the same thing.

Cardiac arrest occurs when electrical disturbances cause the heart’s natural rhythm to malfunction and stop beating. It is a leading cause of death, with symptoms that include fainting, racing heartbeat, dizziness, lightheadedness, unresponsiveness and lack of breathing. If you see someone experience cardiac arrest, you should start CPR and call 911. If an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) is available, use it as soon as possible.

A heart attack occurs when the heart can’t circulate blood (usually due to a blockage in an artery). When the heart muscle loses access to blood, the muscle starts to die. A heart attack can cause cardiac arrest.

While pain or a squeezing sensation in the center of the chest that spreads to the arm is the most common symptom of a heart attack for both men and women, there are important differences. Here’s a look at some of the different heart attack symptoms in men and women.


Women are more likely to have atypical and subtle symptoms during a heart attack, including:

  • Fatigue. You may feel tired for days without a clear reason.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Anxiety or a general feeling of unease/discomfort
  • Dull pain. While chest pain is the most common sign, you may feel pain or discomfort in your neck, back, shoulder, jaw, throat or stomach.
  • Nausea or indigestion. You may vomit or feel sick to your stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. You may have a hard time breathing, even when sitting down.


Men are more likely to experience the typical symptoms we associate with heart attacks, including:

  • Severe chest pain. You may feel like someone is squeezing your heart or like you have a large weight on your chest.
  • Radiating pain. You may feel a pain radiating down your left arm.
  • Cold sweat. You may break out in a cold sweat.

If you suspect you might be having a heart attack, call 911. Every second counts.

With a history of pioneering cardiology specialists and innovation that includes cardiology firsts, Yale New Haven Health Heart and Vascular Center is one of the nation’s leading providers of heart and vascular services, offering the most advanced technology and facilities.

Learn more about how our multidisciplinary team is dedicated to providing our patients with excellence in cardiac care.

Note: The terms “women and “men” are used in this article to reflect biological sex. Your gender identity may not align with the signs, symptoms and risk factors of heart disease. Your healthcare provider can better help you understand how your specific circumstances will translate into diagnosis, symptoms and treatment.