In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics, including some of the most cherished medical myths out there. For our June 2012 issue, we asked a New York-based cardiologist about chest pain and heart attacks.
Q: I'll know I'm having a heart attack because my chest and arm will hurt, right?
A: Not necessarily. While some heart attacks do feature classic symptoms like chest and arm pain, the idea that they all do is FALSE.
About 25% of men and 40% of women don't have chest pain during heart attacks, says Harmony Reynolds, MD, associate director of the Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center and assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center.
With or without chest and arm pain, women may have "shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, sweating, palpitations, dizziness, loss of appetite, or pain in other areas such as the jaw, throat, neck, shoulders, or upper or middle back," Reynolds says.
Given so many possible signs, women might have trouble figuring out if their symptoms are a touch of the stomach flu or a true heart problem. "All too often I hear stories about women not wanting to bother the doctor," Reynolds says. "But medical professionals aren't 'bothered.' We are prepared for false alarms."
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