Women are more likely than men to report heart attack pain not in the chest.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death for American 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 a 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 â€” especially in women â€” arenâ€™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 theyâ€™re assumed to be something less serious, like acid reflux.
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 â€œtheir healthcare provider did not think the symptoms were heart-related,â€ compared to only 36.7 percent of men.
â€œIâ€™m really quite concerned about it,â€ Dr. Nieca Goldberg, cardiologist and medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Womenâ€™s Health at NYU Langone told ishonest. â€œSometimes the doctor is not putting it togetherâ€¦ [physicians] need to change the course and trust and listen to patients to get the patientâ€™s and their familyâ€™s whole story.â€
If these symptoms are misinterpreted or ignored, young women have a â€œhigher risk of mortalityâ€ or having complications from a heart attack.
Missing heart attack signs
Researchers found 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.
Goldberg said that physicians shouldnâ€™t be overlooking these other lesser-known heart attack signs.
â€œThe majority of men and women are reporting symptoms that are classic to a heart attack,â€ Goldberg said. â€œHowever, this study also supports what we already know â€” that women are more likely to report other symptoms.â€
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.
â€œWe have to work to make sure our message about cardiac symptoms gets out to all women so they are better equipped when they have their symptoms,â€ Goldberg said. â€œMost importantly, women are having the symptoms weeks before the heart attack starts, and [healthcare workers] need to find and urge them to get medical care to prevent them from going to the emergency department when it is too late.â€
Although the risk factors and the classic presentation of chest pain for a heart attack hasnâ€™t changed, additional awareness needs to be made for further prevention. Just 54 percent of women realize that cardiac disease is the number one killer for them in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Goldberg urges patients â€œto discuss their cardiac symptoms and potential risk factors with [their] primary doctor, cardiologist, and even their gynecologist.â€
â€œThey need to learn the symptoms of heart attack, get a checkup, and discuss their heart disease risk before having the symptoms themselves,â€ she said. â€œThe idea is to prevent the first heart attack â€” not just recognize it when it is happening.â€