Researchers have recognized a few early warning signs, which may foretell heart attack in women. In a study conducted on 515 women severe unexplained fatigue, difficulty in sleeping and shortness of breath came up as the main troubling symptoms that occurred in women a month or so before the heart attack. Chest pain which is usually considered a classic symptom of heart attack was surprisingly absent (in 40% women) or merely described as a feeling of ache, tightness or pressure (by <30% women).
515 women who previously had a heart attack (in the last 4-6 months) were selected for the study. For 72% of the participants this was the first heart attack. 90% of women in the study were white and average age was 66. During the study all the participants were asked to recollect any physical changes that might have occurred before their heart attack. The participant’s symptom feedback showed that around 90% of women had experienced new and different symptoms before the heart attack, which improved after the attack.
- The symptoms commonly reported were unusual fatigue (71% cases), disturbed sleep (48% cases), shortness of breath (42% cases), indigestion (39% cases) and anxiety (35% cases).
- The symptoms frequently experienced were shortness of breath (58% cases), weakness (55% cases) and fatigue (43% cases).
- Sleep disturbances was reported to be more severe by 44% of women while 42% women complained the fatigue to be more severe.
Hence, the researchers suggest that the doctors as well as the female patients need to be made more aware about these signs. Doctors should place more emphasis on taking a detailed medical history, which can help to identify women at-risk much earlier. Also, women experiencing any unexplained severe fatigue should report it to their doctor. They should explain their symptoms along with the degree of severity i.e. tell the doctor to what extent these symptoms interfere with their daily activity or routine. Infact, recognizing these signs early could also have a significant implication on prevention of heart attack in women, who are usually more at risk of sudden cardiac death than men.
The researchers conclude that some limitations exist in the above-mentioned study (e.g. there was no control group i.e. the study did not consider women without heart disease and secondly, the women in the study were mostly white, thereby limiting the relevance of findings to women of other races) and therefore, some more studies need to be carried out to confirm the findings of this study. However, they say, the current findings need not be ignored and should be put into practice.