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Heart attack symptoms ‘differ in women’

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A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found women experiencing a heart attack suffer less chest pain symptoms, according to a study of more than one million people in the US.

Generally men suffer more heart attacks but women younger than 55 are at higher risk of mortality from one. There is a good chance that women are not receiving the right treatment due to not displaying the characteristic symptoms associated with a heart attack. By and large, 42% of women experienced no chest pain in relation to 30% of men.

About 14% of women died in comparison to 10% of men. The research adds to a growing body of evidence that shows the differences experienced between women and men. The article states: “Optimal recognition and timely management of myocardial infarction (MI), especially for reducing patient delay in seeking acute medical care, is critical. The presence of chest pain/discomfort is the hallmark symptom of MI. Patients without chest pain/discomfort tend to present later, are treated less aggressively, and have almost twice the short-term mortality compared with those presenting with more typical symptoms of MI.”

Cathy Ross, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Symptoms vary; for some the pain is severe and yet others may feel nothing more than a mild discomfort or heaviness. The most important thing to remember is if you think you’re having a heart attack, call 999. Younger women may need to heed that advice more than most because they appear to be less likely to have chest pains. Their symptoms can be overlooked by inexperienced medical staff because heart attacks in young women are rare. More research will hopefully identify why there are such variations in the way heart disease affects men and women.”

Dr Kevin F Fox, a consultant cardiologist at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and speaking for the Royal College of Physicians, said: “The paper has shown that women, and in particular younger women, under 55 years of age, often do not have the typical presenting symptom of chest pain compared to men when they have a heart attack. Although heart attack survival is improving overall, doctors, health care professionals and the public need to be aware and vigilant that women can have a heart attack without the typical chest pain that we all think of as the main symptom.”

Further study is required, and there is no requirement to change the current public health message that chest pain and discomfort could be life threatening regardless of age and gender.

SYMPTOMS
• A dull pain, ache or ‘heavy’ feeling in the chest
• A mild discomfort in the chest that makes you feel generally unwell
• Pain that spreads to the back, arm or stomach
• Pain that feels like a bad episode of indigestion
• Chest pain accompanied by feeling light-headed or dizzy

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