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Legatus Magazine

Cover Story
Susan Locke | author
Apr 01, 2014
Filed under Your Health

Symptoms of a woman’s broken heart

Susan Locke writes that women have different symptoms for heart trouble than men . . .


Research from the National Institutes of Health compared the symptoms of heart attack for men and women and reached two important conclusions.

One: Women are more likely than men to have “atypical symptoms” during a heart attack, and two: Women often experience new or different physical symptoms as long as a month or more prior to the heart attack.

Most people are familiar with the “classic symptoms” of a heart attack. These include a crushing, squeezing or burning pain, pressure or fullness in the center of chest. The pain may radiate to the neck, one or both arms, shoulders, or the jaw. The pain usually lasts more than a few minutes, but it may go away and then return later. Other symptoms may include shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, or cold and clammy skin.

Atypical symptoms, which were found to be more common in women include: Back or neck pain, vomiting, indigestion, weakness, fatigue, dizziness and lightheadedness

The NIH study found that women often do not experience severe pain during an attack; therefore, they should take milder chest pain seriously. In fact, 43% of the women studied did not experience any chest pain at all, and about one third described chest discomfort but not severe pain. Shortness of breath was more common in women, and sweating was more common in men experiencing heart attacks.

The second significant finding was that 95% of the 515 women studied experienced symptoms for weeks or even months before the attack. The “pre-attack” or early symptoms included unusual fatigue (70%), sleep disturbance (48%), shortness of breath (42%), indigestion (39%), and dizziness (39%).

Life-saving heart attack treatments are time sensitive — the earlier they are initiated, the better the out come. Delay can result in long-lasting heart damage or death. So learning to recognize early symptoms and atypical symptoms can be vital to getting the treatment you need fast. Every second counts.

SUSAN LOCKE, MD, is Healthnetwork Foundation’s medical director.

HEALTHNETWORK is a Legatus membership benefit, a healthcare “concierge service” that provides members and their families access to some of the most respected hospitals in the world. One Call Starts It All: (866) 968-2467 or (440) 893-0830. Email:


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