UAMS Reports in Groundbreaking Study:
Women’s Unusual Fatigue, Other Symptoms
Could Warn of Impending Heart Attacks

By todd

“New or different fatigue, sleep problems, shortness of breath, indigestion, and anxiety could be early warning signs of heart disease,” Jean C. McSweeney, Ph.D., R.N., of the UAMS College of Nursing, said. “The appearance of these new symptoms, in conjunction with women’s standard cardiovascular risk factors, should help providers recognize women who should be thoroughly checked for heart disease.”

McSweeney was the lead researcher in the study which Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, published today. In a three-year study of women in Arkansas, North Carolina, and Ohio, the UAMS researchers found that 95 percent of women who had heart attacks remembered having new symptoms more than a month beforehand. The American Heart Association called the study, funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research, “one of the first comprehensive examinations of issues that might allow prevention of imminent heart attack in women.”

The most common early symptoms that women remembered were unusual fatigue (70 percent), sleep disturbance (48 percent), shortness of breath (42 percent), indigestion (39 percent), and anxiety (35 percent). The symptoms stopped after their heart attacks. Only 30 percent of women in the survey remembered chest discomfort, which they usually described as aching, tightness, or pressure, but not pain.

“Women need to understand that the appearance of new symptoms could warn of imminent heart attack or developing heart disease, especially if they have other cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, being overweight, or a family history of heart disease,” McSweeney said.

In earlier studies, McSweeney and her colleagues found that women who remembered a variety of symptoms in the month before their heart attacks either ignored the signs or were misdiagnosed when they sought medical help.

Women also tend to have different symptoms during heart attacks. Rather than the chest pain that men typically experience, women are more likely to have shortness of breath (58 percent), weakness (55 percent), unusual fatigue (43 percent), cold sweat (39 percent), and dizziness (39 percent).

“Lack of chest pain may be a major reason why women have more unrecognized heart attacks than men or are mistakenly diagnosed and discharged from emergency departments. Many clinicians still consider chest pain the primary symptom of a heart attack,” she said.

The Arkansas-North Carolina-Ohio group was primarily Caucasian, so McSweeney is now studying ethnic minorities. The other UAMS researchers on the project are Marisue Cody, Ph.D., R.N., and Patricia O’Sullivan, Ed.D.