Are You Headed for a Heart Attack?
By Susan Ince
The brutal truth: When a woman suffers a heart attack, she is more likely
than a man to die, be permanently disabled, or have a second attack within a
year. "We could do a lot to give women longer lives and better-quality
lives if we could help them recognize heart problems before the first
attack," says Jean C. McSweeney, Ph.D., R.N., nurse researcher at the
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. In an award-winning research
project, she interviewed hundreds of heart attack patients. It turned out that
95 percent of the women suspected something was wrong in the months before
their attack. But that didn't necessarily send them to the doctor. And for
those who did seek help, doctors often failed to identify the problems as
If you experience any of the warning symptoms below—especially if the
feelings are new, worse, unexplained, or you have other heart disease risk
factors—see your doctor. How soon do you need an appointment? Within a month.
But if your symptoms are getting worse, go sooner. And if they're very severe
or you have signs of an impending heart attack, call 911. "Women die
sitting at home," says McSweeney. "Any ER 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."
Symptoms: 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
Symptoms: 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
Symptoms: Mood changes
As Early Warning: Fleeting feelings of anxiety for no reason. Goes
As Sign of Impending Heart Attack: Anxiety occurs along with shortness of
breath and doesn't let up.
Symptoms: Digestive changes
As Early Warning: Frequent indigestion.
As Sign of Impending Heart Attack: Terrible heartburn, often with nausea and
As Sign of Impending Heart Attack: No strength—like having the flu.
Symptoms: Sleep disturbance
As Early Warning: Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
Symptoms: Chest discomfort
As Early Warning: Pressure, pain, burning, or discomfort, like a pulled
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 arm.
Symptoms: Other pains
As Early Warning: Aching arms and hands; may have numbness or
As Sign of Impending Heart Attack: Discomfort and/or pain in jaw, upper back,
shoulders, neck, arms.
As Early Warning: Headaches and periods of blurry vision.
As Sign of Impending Heart Attack: Cold 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.
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