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Fatigue May Warn of Women's Heart Attacks

Women Report Fatigue More Often Than any Other Symptom, Including Chest Pain
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WebMD Health News

Nov. 3, 2003 -- Chest pain or discomfort and arm numbness are considered two of the classic warning signs of a heart attack, but this appears to be less true for women than for men, a new study shows.

In a survey of female heart attack survivors, 70% reported unusual fatigue in the weeks before the event, while just less than one-third reported chest discomfort. A significant percentage -- 43% -- reported no chest pains during their heart attacks.

"I think this may be one reason why women don't seek help during heart attacks as often as men," says researcher Jean C. McSweeney, PhD, RN, who is a professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. "We have promoted the idea that heart attacks involve chest pain, but this is not true for a significant number of women."

Early Warning Signs

The findings show that symptoms not often associated with coronary problems might help predict heart attacks in women. In the survey of nearly 500 women who had had heart attacks within the previous six months, 95% reported having new or different symptoms more than a month prior to the heart attack that resolved with the event.

Unusual fatigue in the weeks leading up the heart attack was cited most often, but almost half reported having trouble sleeping and just over one-third reported being unusually anxious. Roughly 40% of the women reported having unusual shortness of breath or indigestion -- symptoms more commonly associated with coronary events.

All of these unusual symptoms resolved after the heart attacks, leading many of the women to conclude that they were linked to the events. Just over half of the women -- 57% -- reported chest pain as a symptom during their heart attacks, while 58% reported shortness of breath, 55% reported unusual weakness, 43% reported unusual fatigue, and 39% reported dizziness. For those women that reported chest pain, the main location was either the back, between or under the shoulder blades, or the high chest area.

The findings are published in the Nov. 25 issue of the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

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