Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Pay attention to shortness of breath

Heart Beat

Pay attention to shortness of breath

Chest pain is a near-universal signal of heart disease. Shortness of breath may be an equally valuable tip-off.

Since 1991, doctors at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles have asked almost 18,000 men and women who were about to undergo an exercise stress test "Do you experience shortness of breath?" Those answering "yes" were more likely to die of heart-related problems in the next few years than those with either typical chest pain or no heart-related symptoms (see graph).

Like chest pain, shortness of breath may be a sign of ischemia, or inadequate blood flow through the arteries that nourish the heart. It is a common early warning sign of a heart attack in women; less so in men.

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