Feature: Heart attack symptoms 'can differ between genders'

28 February 2012

The symptoms of heart problems in women differ greatly from those in men, it has been found, with the discovery possibly leaving many at risk of a fatality through ill health.

According to research, which was conducted by a team led by Dr John Canto, director of the chest pain center at Lakeland Regional Medical Center, fewer females than males experience chest pain symptoms, which is a key warning of an oncoming heart attack.

Due to this issue, women under the age of 55 have an increased chance of dying from one.

The researchers came to this conclusion after reviewing the health and wellbeing of over one million heart attack patients in the US.

While men are generally at an increased risk of suffering this form of health deterioration, the fact that many women do not experience the classic symptoms in the lead-up to one may be putting them at a much greater risk of a fatality.

This, the research team pointed out, is because as females are not receiving the warning signs, they are then not seeking the right sort of treatment to solve such heart problems, which could prove the difference between life and death.

Details of the research, which were published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, highlighted: "Optimal recognition and timely management of myocardial infarction (MI), especially for reducing patient delay in seeking acute medical care, is critical."

The study group went on to detail that one of the main symptoms of MI is chest pain, or discomfort around that part of the body.

Yet, 42 per cent of female patients involved in the Lakeland Regional Medical Center research acknowledged that they did not detect any pain or discomfort around their chests prior to suffering a heart attack.

In comparison, just 30 per cent of men were immune from any chest pain in the build-up to their decline in health.

Looking into the findings, the study authors wrote: "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, was keen to note that chest pain is not a symptom of every heart attack, with a variety of events leading up to an episode.

However, she noted that no matter how a heart attack is triggered – be it discomfort around the upper body or heaviness – every person should phone the emergency services as soon as a problem arises.

Ms Ross added: "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."

As well as chest pain, other symptoms of a heart attack include striking pain which occurs down the back, stomach and arms, as well as a feeling of light-headiness or dizziness.

Commenting on the research on behalf of the Royal College of Physicians, Dr Kevin F Fox, a consultant cardiologist at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said that "doctors, healthcare 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".

The Lakeland Regional Medical Center researchers are hoping that the study's results will prompt further analysis of heart attacks and their various symptoms, a plea which is backed by Ms Ross.

She pointed out: "More research will hopefully identify why there are such variations in the way heart disease affects men and women."

Coronary heart disease in general is still a major health problem in the UK, with an estimated 80,000 people dying from the condition in 2009 alone, the British Heart Foundation highlighted in its Trends in Coronary Heart Disease, 1961-2011 report.

Posted by Edward Bartel


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