Heart attack symptoms in women are largely the same as in men

Why do doctors miss women’s heart attacks? Study shows chest pain, sweating and shortness of breath are the most common symptoms for BOTH sexes

  • Women are 50% more likely than men to be misdiagnosed following heart attack
  • Previous thinking has claimed the symptoms are different in men and women
  • But a new study has found chest pain, sweating and shortness of breath are the main three symptoms of a heart attack for both sexes 

Men and women largely suffer the same heart attack symptoms, a study has found. 

Currently, heart attack symptoms are thought to vary significantly by gender, with men believed to suffer clear signs whereas women suffer ‘atypical’ symptoms.   

However, this divide has now been proved false by a team of scientists, who found ‘considerable overlap’ of symptoms between the sexes. 

A study from Dutch researchers found chest pain, sweating and shortness of breath are the main three symptoms of a heart attack for both sexes. 

The similarity in heart attack symptoms raises questions as to why women’s heart attacks regularly go undiagnosed. 

According to the British Heart Foundation, women had a 50 per cent higher chance than men of receiving the wrong initial diagnosis following a heart attack.

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According to the British Heart Foundation, women had a 50 per cent higher chance than men of receiving the wrong initial diagnosis following a heart attack. A study from Dutch researchers found chest pain, sweating and shortness of breath are the main three symptoms of a heart attack for both sexes (stock photo)

A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association looked at 27 high-quality studies over the last 20 years which have recorded symptoms in patients with confirmed acute coronary syndrome (heart attack or unstable angina). 

‘Heart attack symptoms are often labelled as ‘typical’ in men and ‘atypical’ in women,’ said Dr Annemarijn de Boer of the University Medical Centre Utrecht.  

‘But our study shows that while symptoms can differ between the sexes, there are also many similarities.’

Seventy-nine per cent of men and 74 per cent of women mentioned chest pain as a symptom. 

But despite the three most common symptoms being consistent for both sexes, there are some noticeable differences between men and women.  

Women, for example, are more than twice as likely to experience pain between the shoulder blades. 

Women are also more likely to have nausea or vomiting, and struggle with shortness of breath. 

Chest pain and sweating were the most frequent symptoms in both women and men, but are more often seen in men, the study also found.   

The study only assessed the prevalence of certain symptoms and not the cause of them.  

Dr de Boer said: ‘Previous research has shown sex differences in how heart attacks occur in the body, but it is uncertain how or whether this relates to symptom presentation. 

‘The cause of symptom differences between the sexes deserves further study.’

Two women die ‘needlessly’ of a heart attack every day because doctors think it’s a ‘man’s disease’ 

At least two women die ‘needlessly’ of a heart attack every day because men get better medical care, experts warn.

A report by the British Heart Foundation from 2019 reveals stark differences in how the sexes are looked after due to the mistaken belief that heart attacks are a ‘man’s disease’.

The BHF found that women get treated slower, are less likely to receive life-saving scans and tests, and, even when they are discharged from hospital, many are not provided with vital drugs or access to rehabilitation programmes.

The charity’s researchers estimate that 8,243 women in England and Wales have died over a ten-year period – the equivalent of 69 a month, or more than two a day – who would have survived if they had received the same care as men.

While men are more likely to have a heart attack, with 132,000 recorded each year, women suffer 73,000 – nearly 20,000 more than are diagnosed with breast cancer.

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, a consultant cardiologist and associate medical director at the BHF, said: ‘Heart attacks have never been more treatable. 

‘Yet women are dying needlessly because heart attacks are often seen as a man’s disease, and women don’t receive the same standard of treatment as men.’

The report reveals that when women have a heart attack they often delay seeking help – taking up to seven hours and 12 minutes to arrive at hospital, compared with three hours and 30 minutes for men.

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