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What you need to know about women & heart attacks after Carrie Fisher's death

Nadine Avola



Nadine is a film/TV actress, appearing in the new Vacation movie this summer. She's also been in Sydney White, Guiding Light, and Game On an Italian Disney TV series.

The actual heart attack symptoms women report have nothing to do with chest pain

Legendary Star Wars actor and activist Carrie Fisher died today at age 60, after she suffered what was thought to be a heart attack on an airplane bound for Los Angeles.

On Sunday, Fisher's mother, Debbie Reynolds, tweeted "Carrie is in stable condition.If there is a change,we will share it. For all her fans & friends. I thank you for your prayers & good wishes." Yesterday, her brother Todd wouldn't confirm that she did, in fact, have a heart attack on Saturday, indicating that the media reports had been speculative and the family itself had little information.

More: We finally have a little bit of good news about Carrie Fisher's health

Uncertainty surrounding how heart disease presents itself in women is not uncommon, primarily because the symptoms of a heart attack differ than those typically seen in men. Here's what you need to know about heart attacks and women:

The actual heart attack symptoms women report have nothing to do with chest pain

Image: Terese Condella

First oif all, in a study by the National Institutes of Health, 43 percent of the 515 women surveyed reported having no chest pain during or prior to the heart attack.

Traditionally, pain in the chest cavity — described like an elephant sitting on your chest — has been the most recognized predictor of a heart attack, along with shortness of breath, fatigue and pain in the left arm. Unfortunately, symptoms in women can be more subtle.

More: 8 Ways to prevent a heart attack

The actual heart attack symptoms women report have nothing to do with chest pain

Image: Terese Condella/SheKnows

1. Extreme fatigue

In the NIH study, "unusual fatigue" was reported by 70 percent of the women in the sample. This tiredness can creep up days or weeks before the actual attack.

2. Sleep disturbance

If you aren't sleeping well at night, this could be a forewarning. The NIH found that 48 percent of the women reported sleep disturbance as a symptom prior to their heart attacks.

3. Back, neck or jaw pain

Instead of an obvious chest pain, we may experience pain in the jaw, neck, or lower or upper back. WebMD notes, "The pain can be gradual or sudden, and it may wax and wane before becoming intense. If you're asleep, it may wake you up."

More: 5 Ways to cut your heart disease risk — right now

4. Indigestion

Heart failure can cause abdominal swelling, which can show up as indigestion, nausea, lack of appetite and vomiting. In the NIH study, 39 percent of women reported these symptoms.

5. Flu-like symptoms

Coughing, sweating and lightheadedness are more than just signs of the flu itself. If you notice any of these flu-like symptoms in conjunction with any other previously mentioned indicators, it may be time to get checked by your doctor.

6. Anxiety

Anxiety is a way of life for most Americans in today's society. But, if you notice unusual bouts of stress or feelings of "impending doom," take a minute to breathe. Your anxiety may be trying to tell you something.

Before you go, check out our slideshow below.

The actual heart attack symptoms women report have nothing to do with chest pain
Image: Tiffany Egbert/SheKnows
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