Heart Attack: Early Warning Signs for Women

Knowing the early warning signs of heart attack is critical. There are vital gender differences in the body’s early warnings that a heart attack may occur or is occurring.

Researchers indicate that women can have early warning signs for about a month prior to a heart attack. Women most often use these descriptions: fatigue, sleep disorders, aching, tightness, burning, pressure, and a strong sense of doom. More than 90% of women who had heart attacks reported them. Unfortunately, their symptoms were underrated, misdiagnosed, or disregarded, which led them to seek medical attention several times before proper diagnosis. The most frequent early warning signs reported are:

1. Fatigue
2. Sleep disturbance
3. Shortness of breath
4. Indigestion
5. Increased anxiety

There may be a physiological reason that heart attacks often are mistaken for indigestion. The heart, esophagus, and stomach are in close proximity and share the vagus nerve. The stress of a heart attack appears to affect the blood flow in the stomach, and sharing that common nerve may cause the symptoms of indigestion and heart attack to appear together. Nearly half the women studied by  McSweeny et al. (2003) rated their fatigue and sleep disturbance as severe. Most women reported to have at least one early warning sign as early as one month—either daily or several times a week—before the initial onset of the acute myocardial infarct (heart attack).

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