Ask an Expert: Heart attacks in women

Q: Is it true that many women have heart attacks without having chest pain?

A: Most of us associate chest pain with heart attacks, but recent studies show that women may experience different heart attack symptoms than men. In one study, researchers found 43 percent of the women didn’t experience any type of chest discomfort with their heart attack. Moreover, 78 percent had at least one of the following symptoms either daily or several times a week for at least one month before their heart attack occurred: unusual fatigue, sleep disturbances, shortness of breath, indigestion, or anxiety.

During an actual heart attack, shortness of breath and weakness were the most common symptoms for women. Other major symptoms included unusual fatigue, cold sweats, and dizziness.

A lack of major chest pain may be a primary reason why women have more unrecognized heart attacks than men. The women in this study who experienced chest discomfort often described it as aching, tightness, or pressure — rather than pain.

If you think you or a loved one may be having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 for help. Don’t try to drive yourself or your loved one to the emergency room. You can begin to receive life-saving treatment in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. If care is sought soon enough, blood flow in the blocked artery can be restored in time to prevent permanent damage to the heart.

UT Erlanger Cardiology is located at 979 E. Third St., Suite C-520, Chattanooga, TN 37403. For more information or to make an appointment with an Erlanger specialist, call 423-778-2564.