Doctors Missed Heart Attack Signs in Women 50% of the Time

Women are more likely than men to report heart attack pain, not in the chest.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women, killing almost 1 in every 4 women. But a new study finds patients and even medical providers are missing important heart attack signs in women.

Many recognize that crushing sensation in your chest as the main symptom for a heart attack, but a recent study led by the Yale School of Public Health found that other lesser-known heart attack symptoms — especially in women — aren’t being recognized by doctors and patients.

About 90 percent of men and women experience some chest discomfort during an acute myocardial infarction (AMI), or heart attack. However, not all AMI events are associated with chest pain.

And these non-chest pain symptoms may be misdiagnosed or ignored if they’re assumed to be something less serious, like acid reflux.

Researchers in the study published this month in the Circulation medical journal looked at 2,009 women and 976 men between the age of 18 and 55 admitted to over 100 hospitals across the United States for AMI.

The researchers conducted interviews to find out which symptoms women had before their hospital visit and what they believed the symptoms were. Researchers also checked to see if participants had prior visits with a healthcare provider.

Almost 62 percent of women presented with more than three non-chest pain symptoms, compared to 54.8 percent of men. Women were more likely than men to report symptoms such as stomach pain, shortness of breath, palpitations in their chest, nausea, and dizziness.

Additionally, 53 percent of women said “their healthcare provider did not think the symptoms were heart-related,” compared to only 36.7 percent of men.

If these symptoms are misinterpreted or ignored, young women have a “higher risk of mortality” or having complications from a heart attack.

Missing heart attack signs

Both men and women often didn’t realize they were exhibiting potential signs of a heart attack.

Researchers found that nearly 50 percent of both men and women thought their symptoms were related to noncardiac conditions. Most commonly, study participants thought their symptoms were related to indigestion or acid reflux, and 20.9 percent of women related their symptoms to stress and anxiety.

Almost two-thirds of men and women reported that they only decided to seek medical care because they had persistent symptoms. Over half reported that their pain was too bad to ignore. A greater percentage of women than men did state they sought medical care for their symptoms prior to being admitted.

Despite both men and women having risk factors for cardiac disease, women are more likely to have a history of diabetes, obesity, stroke or ministroke, congestive heart failure, chronic lung disease, and chronic kidney disease.

Although the risk factors and the classic presentation of chest pain for a heart attack hasn’t changed, additional awareness needs to be made for further prevention. J

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