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Debra has been a professional freelance writer and editor since 2001. Her articles for the web have appeared on sites including WOW! Women on Writing, TravelWise, Health Insurance Carriers, and Democratic Underground.

She has ghost-written six books dealing with health care. Her young adult novel, Visiting Grandma, and her nonfiction book, Hospice Tails, have both received excellent reviews and are on sale at

In addition to being a freelance writer, Debra is also a licensed social worker.

EDUCATION:  BA, MSW from University of Kansas BLOG:  Freelance Writer and Social Worker


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Writing Sample

Debra Stang

Word Count: 500

Originally published on Suite on 1 March 2008










Heart Attack Symptoms in Women


Debra L. Stang


     Most people know—or think they know—what a heart attack looks like. The victim clutches his or her chest, grimaces, and collapses to the ground. Most women are aware that chest pain is a symptom that requires immediate medical attention.

     What women don’t know, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), is that nearly half of females experience no chest pain at all during an acute myocardial infarction (AMI). Heart attack symptoms in women are much more subtle and may be mistaken for other conditions.


Early Warning

     One way heart attacks differ between men and women is that women may start to show symptoms earlier. The NIH released a study showing that in the 30 days prior to a heart attack, women were likely to experience vague symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, and sleep disturbances.

     Most women discounted these symptoms or attributed them to benign medical problems such as anxiety, a 24-hour virus, or simply the aging process. Only in retrospect did they realize that these symptoms were a warning of the heart attack to come.


The Actual Heart Attack

     Even during an AMI, up to 43 percent of women reported no chest pain. The heart attack symptoms they did report included

  • Cold sweat

  • Sudden weakness, dizziness, or fatigue

  • Racing heart or fast pulse

  • Anxiety

  • Stomach or abdominal pain

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Swelling of the feet, ankles, and lower legs

  • Pain in the lower jaw

  • Pain or discomfort in the back along the bra line


    Survival Statistics

         Women heart attack survival statistics are not encouraging. Among women aged 25 to 44, AMIs are the third leading cause of death. Among women aged 45 to 64, they are the second leading cause of death. Compared to men, women are less likely to survive the initial heart attack, less likely to leave the hospital alive, and more likely to die within a year of the AMI.

         These statistics may be so discouraging because women don’t recognize heart attack symptoms and put off seeking help until it is too late. Scientists also speculate that the smaller hearts of women may be able to sustain less damage before failing completely.


    Improving the Odds

         It’s best to prevent heart disease altogether by living a heart-smart lifestyle by maintaining a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and not smoking.

         Women should also be aware of the heart attack symptoms most commonly experienced by females and the importance of seeking help immediately. Some women put off seeing a doctor for fear of being embarrassed if the symptoms are not heart-related. Most doctors, however, would rather rule out 100 mistaken AMIs than miss one real one.

         Finally, after a heart attack, women should be especially diligent about following up with a cardiologist and closely adhering to their doctors’ instructions.


         Because heart disease often hides in women, it’s important to know the subtle symptoms and to be assertive about seeking medical attention.