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A Surprising Finding About Women and Heart Attacks

Posted Apr 01 2009 12:27am

Men who suffer from heart attacks typically complain of chest pain, shortness of breath, and radiating pain from the neck to the left arm. But for women, it’s completely different. A recent study financed by the NIH (and summarized in the New York Times) showed that in the weeks before their heart attacks, 70% of women complained of severe fatigue and 48% reported sleep disturbances. Less than 50% had shortness of breath, anxiety, or indigestion. 

Post-menopausal women have a much higher risk of developing heart disease compared with their pre-menopausal peers. We know that obstructive sleep apnea can cause heart disease, and menopause can aggravate sleep-breathing problems. We also know that 90% of women with sleep apnea are not diagnosed. I think it’s safe to assume that many if not most of the women in this study had some degree of a sleep-breathing problem. It’s not surprising that the initial symptoms by women who were about to have heart attacks had mainly sleep-related symptoms. Oddly, these symptoms were called "atypical."  Sadly, 90% of women with sleep apnea will continue to go undiagnosed. 

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