Signs a Woman Is Headed for a Heart Attack

In honor of American Heart Month, we’d like to highlight a recent study from nurse-researcher Dr. Jean McSweeney of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

After interviewing hundreds of people who’d survived a heart attack, Dr. McSweeney noticed that 95% of the women she spoke to actually suspected something was wrong in the months leading up to the attack. But the symptoms were often ignored or, if they were brought to the attention of a doctor, were not recognized as being heart-related.


The symptoms ranged from unusual fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, and weakness to mood changes, digestive changes, and sleep disturbances. (A full list of the symptoms can be found here.) If you are experiencing any of these symptoms — particularly if they are new, worse, unexplained, or if you have other heart disease risk factors such as diabetes — you should speak with your health-care provider. And if they are severe, you should call 911.

As Dr. McSweeney notes, “Women die sitting at home. Any E.R. would prefer that you come in and not have a heart attack than have a heart attack at home, waiting to see if you get better. We could do a lot to give women longer lives and better-quality lives if we could help them recognize these heart problem signs before the first attack.”

For more information on the symptoms of an impending heart attack in women, read this article on the Web site Heart Sisters

This blog entry was written by Web Editor Diane Fennell.

  • Carolyn Thomas

    Thanks for the links to my original blog post on Heart Sisters – This was an important study that should remind women to pay attention to early symptoms rather than brushing them off – as we tend to do!

  • Joe

    Thank you for this. My wife’s family has a history of heart disease, and one message her Doctor has always stressed is that heart attacks in women can look and feel much different from the classic “massive coronary.”

  • Maryann Salvin

    Yes, strangely I had severe low back pain prior and was really uncomfortable,I new that it would pass – other things were also going on medically chronic diabetes 40 + years other health issues as well.I have always followed appointments for good care over the many years. Good suggestions though to be safe and not be a statistic.
    I had a scheduled medical group for foot MD – on my way walking to the medical building all of a sudden this horrible horrific chest pressure no pain there but there was pain in left arm and sweating in the neck area – well I continued walking directly to urgent care which was in the same building-thank God my own PCP was on call – nurse looked at me and got me right in and the rest is history.
    Right place- right time.
    Grateful for wonderful care at our HIP medical group in Brooklyn – especially Nicole & Dr. John Ferrero and
    Maimonides Hospital almost 11 years ago with such a happy ending.
    Sincerely, Mrs. Maryann Salvin
    Irvington-on the Hudson, NY

  • Kim K

    Thanks for the article on heart attacks on women. I use to get irrupting headaches in the back of my head about two years ago. My primary care doctor referred me to a neurologist to get a CAT scan. My neurologist had asked many questions such as how long and often the headaches last. Since he wasn’t sure, he ask his boss [the head doctor]; he asks me the same questions. His final answer, “Your headaches are not severe enough for a scan.” I was outdone by his remarks. Not to offend anyone but some male doctors tend to show bias against female patients when it comes to having a heart attack.

  • Terri

    My sissy got very ill right before she was having her heart attack—diarrhea, nausea and uncontrollable vomiting… :( The symptoms in women are varied and unpredictable and do not always, if rarely, follow those textbook symptoms we’ve always heard about in men.