Harvard Health Letter

In brief: Sudden sweat may signal a heart attack

In brief

Sudden sweat may signal a heart attack

Researchers have found that many heart attack victims (up to a third in one study) don't experience chest pain or anything remotely like the "Hollywood heart attack" in which a person crumples to the floor, gripping his or her chest. In fact, one study reports that for many heart attack sufferers, sudden sweating is the stand-out symptom and the one most likely to take them to a doctor.

Why? According to Catherine J. Ryan, the study's lead investigator and an assistant professor at the College of Nursing at the University of Illinois, Chicago, it may be that breaking out into a sweat for no apparent reason "is one thing that you can't explain away," unlike shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, and chest pain, which can be chalked up to the flu, a bad night's sleep, a spicy meal, or any number of other things.

She and her colleagues amassed data on 1,073 patients that had been collected in other studies. They picked out 12 common symptoms and grouped them into clusters to see which led to delays in seeking help and which got people to act more quickly.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »