featured article from our January 2012 issue
Women's Heart Attack Symptoms Often Different from Men's
Signs may appear up to a month before attack
Research by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicates that women often experience new or different
physical symptoms as long as a month or more before experiencing heart attacks.
Among the 515 women studied, 95-percent said they knew their symptoms were new or different a month or
more before experiencing their heart attack, or Acute Myocardial Infarction (AMI). The symptoms most
commonly reported were unusual fatigue (70.6-percent), sleep disturbance (47.8-percent), and shortness of
Many women never had chest pains. Surprisingly, fewer than 30% reported having chest pain or discomfort
prior to their heart attacks, and 43% reported have no chest pain during any phase of the attack. Most doctors,
however, continue to consider chest pain as the most important heart attack symptom in both women and men.
The 2003 NIH study, titled "Women's Early Warning Symptoms of AMI," is one of the first to investigate
women's experience with heart attacks, and how this experience differs from men's. Recognition of symptoms
that provide an early indication of heart attack, either imminently or in the near future, is critical to forestalling or
preventing the disease.
In a NIH press release, Jean McSweeney, PhD, RN, Principal Investigator of the study at the University of
Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, said, "Symptoms such as indigestion, sleep disturbances, or
weakness in the arms, which many of us experience on a daily basis, were recognized by many women in the
study as warning signals for AMI. Because there was considerable variability in the frequency and severity of
symptoms," she added, "we need to know at what point these symptoms help us predict a cardiac event."
Women's symptoms not as predictable. According to Patricia A.Grady, PhD, RN, Director of the NINR,
"Increasingly, it is evident that women's symptoms are not as predictable as men's. This study offers hope that
both women and clinicians will realize the wide range of symptoms that can indicate heart attack. It is
important not to miss the earliest possible opportunity to prevent or ease AMI, which is the number one cause
of death in both women and men."
Major symptoms prior to their heart attack included:
Unusual fatigue - 70%
Sleep disturbance - 48%
Shortness of breath - 42%
Indigestion - 39%
Anxiety - 35%
Major symptoms during the heart attack include:
Shortness of breath - 58%
Weakness - 55%
Unusual fatigue - 43%
Cold sweat - 39%
Dizziness - 39%
REMEMBER: It's better to call for help when you don't need it, than not to call for help when you do!