Although hard-to-read heart attacks happen to both men and women, they are more common in women. One reason for this is that men’s symptoms initially set the standard for recognizing heart trouble. Now a growing body of research shows that women can experience heart attacks differently than men.
Understanding sex differences in heart disease is important. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women. Although it mostly affects older women, it isn’t rare in younger women. One in 10 of all women who die from heart disease or a stroke are under age 65, and this age group accounts for one-third of heart- or stroke-related hospitalizations. Even so, younger women and their doctors don’t necessarily suspect a heart attack even when all the signs are there.
In a survey of more than 500 women who survived heart attacks, 95% of them said they noticed that something wasn’t right in the month or so before their heart attacks. Two most common early warning signs were fatigue and disturbed sleep. Some women, for example, said they were so tired they couldn’t make a bed without resting.
Chest pain, a common early warning sign of heart trouble for men, was further down the list for these women. Those who did have it tended to describe it as pressure, aching, or tightness in the chest, not pain.
Even when their heart attacks were under way, only about one-third of the women in this study experienced the “classic” symptom of chest pain. Instead, shortness of breath, weakness and fatigue, a clammy sweat, dizziness, and nausea topped the list.
One take-home message is that some women may get an early warning of an impending heart attack in the form of excessive tiredness, disturbed sleep, or shortness of breath. Paying attention to these symptoms and getting prompt diagnosis and treatment just might stave off a full-blown heart attack. Some men also have early warning signals, with chest pain being the most common.
The other message is that women and their doctors need to think beyond chest pain when it comes to what women experience as a heart attack blossoms. Instead of writing off shortness of breath, fatigue, cold sweat, dizziness, and nausea as signs of something that will pass, everyone needs to give these symptoms a second look.
|Top 12 symptoms women reported experiencing the month before and during heart attacks.|
|Before attack||During attack|
|Unusual fatigue (71%)||Shortness of breath (58%)|
|Sleep disturbance (48%)||Weakness (55%)|
|Shortness of breath (42%)||Unusual fatigue (43%)|
|Indigestion (39%)||Cold sweat (39%)|
|Anxiety (36%)||Dizziness (39%)|
|Heart racing (27%)||Nausea (36%)|
|Arms weak/heavy (25%)||Arm heaviness or weakness (35%)|
|Changes in thinking or memory (24%)||Ache in arms (32%)|
|Vision change (23%)||Heat/flushing (32%)|
|Loss of appetite (22%)||Indigestion (31%)|
|Hands/arms tingling (22%)||Pain centered high in chest (31%)|
|Difficulty breathing at night (19%)||Heart racing (23%)|
|From Circulation, 2003, Vol. 108, p. 2621|
Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV
A person finds joy in giving an apt reply— and how good is a timely word! Proverbs 15:23 NIV
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10 NIV
deliverance You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of. Psalm 32:7 NIV
So that I Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15 NIV
may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed. Romans 15:32 NIV
Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart. Psalm 119:111 NIV
But godliness with contentment is great gain. 1 Timothy 6:6 NIV
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6 NIV
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