When it comes to women and heart health, the facts are simply shocking: according to the Women's Heart Foundation women account for nearly half of all heart attack deaths; between the ages of 40 and 60, as many women die of heart disease as breast cancer; over a lifetime, heart disease kills five times as many women as breast cancer.

As a woman's risk of a heart attack is rising, recognizing that a female's symptoms can be very different than a male's becomes even more vital. Research by the National Institute of Health reveals that fewer than a third of females reported having chest pain or discomfort prior to their heart attacks, and 43 percent reported have no chest pain during any phase of the attack.

Most doctors, however, continue to consider chest pain as the most important heart attack symptom in both women and men, according to the study at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science of 515 women who had suffered heart attacks.

Symptoms in Women:

The NIH research indicates that earlier studies showed that 90 percent of women identified an array of chronic symptoms that they experienced up to six months before their heart attack such as:
  • Sleep disturbance (47.8)
  • Shortness of breath (42.1)
  • Indigestion (39.4)
  • Anxiety (35.5)

While some women ignored these symptoms, others repeatedly sought medical assistance only to have physicians minimize, misdiagnose or ignore the symptoms. The women who went for medical help said the intensity or frequency of the symptoms made them feel they might be related to heart disease. Nearly half the women rated fatigue and sleep disturbance they experienced as being very severe.

Acute or sudden symptoms that spurred the women to seek immediate medical help included:

  • Shortness of breath (57.9 percent)
  • Weakness (54.8)