Found on Prevention.com and written by Markham Heid
Heart issues can be sneaky and surreptitious, arriving suddenly and seemingly without warning. But oftentimes there are tip-offs—though people fail to recognize them.
“Especially for women, the signs or symptoms of heart trouble don’t always follow the classic patterns,” says Kerry Hildreth, MD, an assistant professor of aging and heart health at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Regardless of your gender, knowing what to look for is key. For starters, keep close tabs on your blood pressure and cholesterol, says Paul Whelton, MD, a professor of epidemiology at Tulane University School of Public Health. Then be on the lookout for one or more of these signs of potential trouble.
Chest pain or soreness
Not everyone who has a heart attack does it Hollywood style (think clutching your chest and dropping to the floor). Intense pressure—”like an elephant standing on your chest,” says Whelton—should prompt you to call 911. Feel like you pulled a muscle in your chest? That could signal underlying cardiovascular disease, says Ashley Simmons, MD, a cardiologist at the University of Kansas Hospital, so be sure to tell your doctor. (Learn the symptoms of a silent heart attack here.)
“It doesn’t have to be a sharp pain,” Simmons says. “It could be subtle, and it sometimes radiates out to your shoulder, arm, neck, or jaw.” Chest pain that pops up during or following a workout or when you’re stressed is especially concerning, as it could signal a blood flow issue, Simmons says.
Shortness of breath
If light activity takes your breath away—especially if you used to be able to tackle a flight of stairs without huffing and puffing—that’s trouble, Simmons says. “I ask patients to compare their activity today to their activity a year or two ago,” she says. “If they notice major changes in their breathing or what they’re able to do, that’s a sign something may be going on.”
Breathing problems that come on when you lie down are also problematic (they could indicate valve disease), so be sure to bring that to your doctor’s attention. (Want to pick up some healthier habits? Sign up to get healthy living tips delivered straight to your inbox!)
“Feeling nauseated or fatigued or experiencing a cold, clammy sweat can signal insufficient blood flow,” Hildreth says. Everyone gets these symptoms at times, but if they start after a bout of physical activity, see a doctor.
Severe stomach upset can also be a red flag; research shows that some women have indigestion during the days before a heart attack, but they don’t associate it with heart trouble so they put off seeking treatment. When in doubt, get help.
Feeling lightheaded or woozy could be a sign of a blockage or valve-related issue, especially if it’s accompanied by the feeling that your heart is fluttering (palpitations), Simmons says. Feel lightheaded whenever you stand up quickly may also be a sign of impending heart trouble, finds a recent study from the University of North Carolina.
Fatigue or sleeplessness
Many female heart attack sufferers feel oddly tired during the week leading up to an attack. They also report “sleep disturbances,” according to a study from the University of Arkansas.