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Heart Disease Health Center

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Fatigue May Warn of Women's Heart Attacks

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

Women at Risk

Complaints of fatigue, anxiousness, and trouble sleeping are common among aging women (who are also at higher risk for heart attacks) and could be indicative of a host of other health problems. But McSweeney says healthcare providers need to recognize that they may also be early warning signs of heart attack in women at risk.

"A major message here is that women really need to listen to their bodies and their healthcare providers need to listen to them," McSweeney says. "If they have other risk factors for heart attack, then these kinds of changes should not be ignored."

Cardiologist Nieca Goldberg, MD, says she recognized early in her career that women and men commonly experience heart attacks differently. The author of the book, Women Are Not Small Men: Lifesaving Strategies for Preventing and Healing Heart Disease, Goldberg says the new research should help others understand this as well.

"If these symptoms are recognized early as warning signs of a heart attack then we may be able to stop it in its tracks," she tells WebMD. "Women and their doctors have to understand that chest pain is not necessarily the main sign of a heart attack."

Goldberg practices at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, and is a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association.

Preventing Heart Attacks

The most of the women included in the study were white, and McSweeney tells WebMD that it is unclear if women of other races have the same early warning signs and acute heart attack symptoms. Because the study did not include a control group of women without diagnosed heart disease, it is unclear whether the early symptoms reported by the women can actually be used to identify women at risk and prevent heart attacks from occurring.

But Goldberg says it is clear that it is not too soon for healthcare providers to consider symptoms such as unusual fatigue and problems sleeping as possible signs of an impending heart attack in women.

"Recognizing that these symptoms, could mean the difference between identifying and treating problems before the event or ending up in the ER with a heart attack," she says.

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