5 Early Symptoms of Impending Heart Attack in Women

In this article I want to bring to the forefront of understanding subtle signs that may be early symptoms of impending heart attack in women; indicia that have been experienced by a large number of females prior to their myocardial infarction.

If you are female pay close attention because this information about early symptoms of impending heart attack in women may save your life. If you are male take heed as well so that you can recognize these imminent heart attack signals the ladies in your life might overlook.

According to the AHA, American Heart Association, heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death seen in females residing in the United States and almost 45 percent of female deaths are a result of cardiovascular disease. It is particularly devastating in the minority sector with the death rate among black females 69 percent higher than in white females.

Cardiovascular disease is much more deadly for females than breast cancer with future forecast estimates claiming death by heart attack or stroke at 50 percent (one in two) whereas breast cancer will only claim one in 25.

What I’m about to relate to you is information from the most comprehensive study to date on the subject of symptoms of impending heart attack in women and was reported in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Females With Diagnosed Heart Attacks Studied

The study was comprised of 515 ladies, recruited by researchers, who had all experienced a diagnosed heart attack within four to six months of the study start date. The ladies were 66 years of age on average and resided in Arkansas, North Carolina and Ohio. Most, 93 percent, were Caucasian. 6.2% were African American and 0.4% were Native American. The collection of data occurred during a 3 year period.

To accurately record the indicia that may indicate an impending myocardial infarction researchers relied upon a telephone survey questionnaire created by Dr. McSweeney and colleagues, known as the McSweeney Acute and Prodromal Myocardial Infarction Symptom Survey (MAPMISS).

Using MAPMISS researchers targeted 33 prodromal and 37 acute symptoms that were previously identified in earlier studies.

– Prodromal (medical term for early) symptoms were defined as either brand new, changing in intensity or frequency and or any intermittent ones the women experienced prior to their myocardial infarction; with the manifestations either resolving or returning to previous levels after the cardiac event.

– Acute symptoms on the other hand were defined as those presenting with myocardial infarction and not resolving until the women received successful treatment.

The survey included additional questions regarding any other health conditions, risk factors, medications and demographics.

5 Most Common Early Symptoms

95 percent of ladies reported having new or different symptoms more than a month before their myocardial infarction which were no longer an issue after their cardiac event.

Common sense led the researchers to believe that the symptoms the women experienced prior were in fact related to the following myocardial infarction.

The most common early indications were:

  • unusual fatigue – 70 percent
  • sleep disturbance – 48 percent
  • shortness of breath – 42 percent
  • indigestion – 39 percent
  • anxiety – 35 percent

A smaller portion of the women, 30 percent, indicated experiencing chest discomfort; describing that chest discomfort as an aching, tightness or pressure, not pain.

In previous research conducted by Dr. McSweeny it was found that females who later reported various indicia occurring prior to their heart attack either ignored those signs or were misdiagnosed when they obtained medical counsel.

Dr. McSweeny believes health care providers need to be much more aware of the symptoms females experience and while the early symptoms may not be all inclusive or completely undeniable evidence in predicting an impending heart attack those common early signs together with cardiovascular risk factors should help providers target those ladies who should receive more in-depth diagnostic testing.

Chest Pain – Not a Significant Symptom?

Researchers found, according to this comprehensive study, that 43 percent of females did not have chest discomfort during their heart attack and for the ladies who did experience chest discomfort the locations of interest were the back and high upper chest. This may indicate that chest pain is not necessarily a significant symptom in women who present with heart attack.

This, lack of significant chest pain, could be a major factor contributing to unrecognized and misdiagnosed heart attacks in women because many doctors may still consider chest pain as the primary symptom of myocardial infarction.

What were the acute symptoms that women revealed experiencing during their heart attack? The list may surprise you. They were:

  • shortness of breath – 58 percent
  • weakness – 55 percent
  • unusual fatigue – 43 percent
  • cold sweat – 39 percent
  • dizziness – 39 percent


There are some possible discrepancies within the study. Since the study was comprised mostly of Caucasian women early warning and/or acute symptoms may vary or differ between races and that is being evaluated via another study of minority women. And…

There was not a control group of women without diagnosed heart disease and so it is impossible to determine how many undiagnosed women may experience identical or similar early signs; However, common sense should indicate that the probability is quite high and that the above early and acute symptoms of heart attack should never be ignored.

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