Profound Fatigue, Cold Sweats, Dizziness May Signal Heart Attack


In 2006, an American Heart Association survey conducted every three years found that 79 percent of women reported that the first thing they would do if they thought they were having a heart attack was to call 911. But in the 2009 survey, "we were shocked … that only 53 percent of women said they would call 911 first," said Suzanne Haynes, senior science adviser for the Office on Women's Health and director of the campaign.

Women easily overlook or excuse subtle symptoms that can end in a heart attack, as well as many acute symptoms during a heart attack, said Dr. Lori Mosca, director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and one of the campaign's developers.

The seven major signs you are having a heart attack:

Unusual or unexplained fatigue unrelated to exercise. "You're absolutely exhausted when you try to do any activity. You feel as though you don't have the strength," said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, medical director of New York University's Women's Heart Program. "This is not fatigue because you didn't sleep, your kids woke you up five times during the night or because you're having chills and fever from the flu." Dr. Roquelle E. Wyche, an attending cardiologist at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., and a member of the Association of Black Cardiologists, which is one of several partners in the campaign, said it's the kind of fatigue a woman might notice if, say, she usually parks a block away from her job and typically walks that block without any difficulty but starts to feel extremely tired and feels the need to rest. Mosca also noted that looking back, more than 80 percent of women with confirmed heart attacks had fatigue in the previous three to four months but didn't take it seriously.

Unfamiliar dizziness or lightheadedness. "This is a symptom that can be associated with others, because when you're having a heart attack, your heart is not pumping effectively and you're taking blood away from your brain and you're dizzy or might feel like fainting," said Goldberg, author of "Women Are Not Small Men," which was revised and rereleased as "The Women's Healthy Heart Program -- Lifesaving Strategies for Preventing and Healing Heart Disease."

Unexplained nausea, vomiting. "Usually what happens is people get a symptom like lower chest pressure or upper abdomen pressure, and the associated symptom is nausea and vomiting," Goldberg said.

Sharp pain in the upper body, including the neck, back and jaw. This is a significant symptom, particularly when this is the first time a woman has felt pain in those places, Wyche said.

Severe shortness of breath. Goldberg described this as feeling as if "you've run a marathon but you've not made a move."

Heavy pressure on the chest, which may feel like indigestion, heartburn, fullness or squeezing, lasts more than a few minutes and may abate before returning. "The chest pressure is relentless. it doesn't change with positional changes. It could be associated with nausea, vomiting, a cold sweat, feeling like you're going to faint or you may faint," Goldberg said.

Cold sweats that do not resemble the hot flashes associated with menopause.

Women Experience Delays in Diagnosis

Detrow's rapid heartbeat was another dangerous heart attack warning sign that shouldn't be ignored, Goldberg said. "During a heart attack, you are at greater risk for life-threatening arrhythmia."

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