The NIH News in Health
skip navigation
Health Capsules
January 2008
(PDF—450 kb)  
Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

Chest pain or discomfort has long been seen as the most common early warning sign of a heart attack.  But recent research has raised questions about whether this holds true for women.  A new study looked at the available evidence and concluded that chest pain is the most common sign of heart attack for most women.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among U.S. women.  It affects 1 in 10 females over age 18.  In light of the recent uncertainty about heart attack symptoms in women, NIH-funded researchers examined 69 studies published over 35 years.  The studies ranged from large clinical trials to smaller studies and patient interviews.

Taken together, the studies showed that the majority of women—two-thirds to three-quarters—had chest discomfort with heart attack.  In addition, the authors found that women seem to report a wider range of symptoms than men.  These include shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite and dizziness.

Although chest pain may be the most common sign of heart attack for most women, experts recommend that any new symptoms be promptly evaluated.  Surveys suggest that more women are now aware that heart disease is their leading killer, but many still don’t take their risk of heart disease personally and seriously.

Wise Choices iconWise Choices
Heart Attack Signs

Fast action can save lives. Everyone should know these warning signs of a heart attack:

  • Pain or discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body.  Can include one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath often comes along with chest discomfort, but it also can occur before chest discomfort.
  • Other symptoms may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or light-headedness.

Links iconWeb Sites

Heart Attack Warning Signs

The Heart Truth—heart disease awareness campaign for women

Your Guide to a Healthy Heart

  Fit Seniors May Live Longer

Being physically fit after age 60 may extend your life, regardless of your body’s fat content, according to a new study.

Scientists looked at more than 2,600 men and women, age 60 or older, who were involved in an NIH-funded study of exercise.  The seniors walked on a treadmill to rate their fitness levels.  Their fat levels were assessed by looking at their waist measurements, percent body fat and their weight to height ratio.

After a follow-up period that averaged 12 years, 450 participants had died.  They were generally older than survivors and also had lower fitness levels.  The percent of body fat did not appear to be related to the risk of dying.  However, people who were more fit, had a lower body mass index or smaller waist measurements were less likely to die during the study.  The researchers also found that least-fit adults had a death rate 4 times higher than the fittest group.

The findings suggest that you don’t need to be thin to benefit from regular physical activity.  Regular activity—like brisk walking for at least 30 minutes most days of the week—will keep most older adults out of the lowest fitness category and possibly help prolong their lives.  A key to healthy aging is being physically active, regardless of your weight.

To get a free copy of Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging, click on the link in the side box or call 1-800-222-2225.

Links iconWeb Sites

Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging, or call 1-800-222-2225

Exercise and Physical Activity: Getting Fit For Life


Links iconFeatured Web Site

Tips for Teens with Diabetes

Teens with diabetes donít need to eat special foods. They just need to make healthy food choices. Learn how food affects your body and get tips for eating healthy and staying active with diabetes.

to top    
NIH logo National Institutes of Health (NIH)
9000 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, Maryland 20892
DHHS logo Department of Health and
Human Services
  Office of Communications and
Public Liaison