When nurse-researcher Dr. Jean McSweeney from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences interviewed hundreds of heart attack survivors, she discovered something surprising: 95 percent of the women she interviewed actually suspected something was very wrong in the months leading up to their attack.*
But even these early warning prodromal symptoms didn’t necessarily send women rushing to the doctor, as reported in Dr. McSweeney’s study published in the medical journal, Circulation.** And for those women who did seek help early, doctors often failed to identify their problems as being heart-related.
If you experience the warning symptoms listed below – especially if the feelings are new, worse, unexplained, or you have other heart disease risk factors – call your doctor. And if they’re very severe, or you have signs of an impending heart attack, call 911.
Dr. McSweeney adds:
“Women die sitting at home. Any E.R. would prefer that you come in and not have a heart attack than have a heart attack at home, waiting to see if you get better.
“We could do a lot to give women longer lives and better-quality lives if we could help them recognize these heart problem signs before the first attack.”
Symptom: Unusual fatigue
♥ As Early Warning: Wake up tired. Difficult to carry out usual activities; gets worse over time.
♥ As Sign of Impending Heart Attack: Overwhelming exhaustion – too tired to do anything.
Symptom: Shortness of breath
♥ As Early Warning: Winded with little exertion. Improves when you stop.
♥ As Sign of Impending Heart Attack: Often the first symptom; continues or worsens.
Symptom: Mood changes
♥ As Early Warning: Fleeting feelings of anxiety for no reason. Goes away.
♥ As Sign of Impending Heart Attack: Anxiety occurs along with shortness of breath and doesn’t let up; what we call a “sense of impending doom”.
Symptom: Digestive changes
♥ As Early Warning: Frequent indigestion.
♥ As Sign of Impending Heart Attack: Terrible heartburn, often with nausea and vomiting.
♥ As Sign of Impending Heart Attack: No strength – like having the flu.
Symptom: Sleep disturbance
♥ As Early Warning: Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
Symptom: Chest discomfort
♥ As Early Warning: Pressure, pain, burning, or discomfort, like a pulled muscle
♥ As Sign of Impending Heart Attack: Common, usually through chest or back. May or may not be the “Hollywood Heart Attack”: crushing chest pain, pain radiating down either left or right arm. Carolyn’s Note: remember that in over 40% of heart attacks in women, there are NO symptoms of chest discomfort at all.
Symptom: Other pains
♥ As Early Warning: Aching arms and hands; may have numbness or tingling (right, left or both)
♥ As Sign of Impending Heart Attack: Discomfort and/or pain in jaw, upper back, shoulders, neck, right, arms (left, right or both)
♥ As Early Warning: Headaches and periods of blurry vision
♥ As Sign of Impending Heart Attack: Cold clammy sweat, pale skin
♥ As Early Warning: Symptoms come and go, but may increase in intensity and number as attack nears.
♥ As Sign of Impending Heart Attack: You may have six or more different symptoms that become more intense and pile on top of one another.
Source: WebMD feature, Good Housekeeping, Hearst Communications, Inc.
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* In Dr. McSweeney’s research, women heart attack survivors identified these early warning prodromal symptoms in the weeks/months before a heart attack:
- unusual fatigue (70.7%)
- sleep disturbance (47.8%)
- shortness of breath (42.1%)
- chest discomfort (29.7%)
The most frequent acute symptoms reported during a heart attack were:
- shortness of breath (57.9%)
- weakness (54.8%)
- fatigue (42.9%)
- Acute chest pain was absent in 43% of women during a heart attack
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** Jean C. McSweeney. “Women’s Early Warning Symptoms of Acute Myocardial Infarction”. Circulation. 2003; 108: 2619-2623 November 3, 2003. doi: 10.1161/01.CIR.0000097116.29625.7C
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♥ PLEASE NOTE: I am not a physician and cannot advise you if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Please see your doctor for a competent medical opinion if you are.