A new study has found that while chest pain is still the most common symptom of a heart attack, a slightly higher percentage of women than men don’t experience it while having an attack.
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While men and women typically feel chest pain or pressure along with other symptoms, some women may suffer an attack with symptoms other than chest pain.
This presents a danger for women who may believe these symptoms are caused by something less serious like heartburn or the flu — and then neglect to get immediate help.
Non-chest pain symptoms during heart attack
David Frid, MD, did not take part in the study but is a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic.
“Most people, whether they’re men or women, do present with chest pain and we’ve always known that’s the most common symptom,” says Dr. Frid. “What the study says is that women were slightly more likely to present with non-chest pain symptoms compared to men.”
These can include:
- Fatigue and weakness that may last for days
- Shortness of breath (with or without chest discomfort)
- Dizziness, nausea, lightheadedness
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, neck, jaw or stomach
- Upper back pressure
What are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack?
What the study found
University of British Columbia researchers looked at more than 1,000 people age 55 and younger.
They found chest pain to be reported in about 80 percent of all cases of acute coronary syndrome, where blood supply to the heart is suddenly blocked, like a heart attack or unstable angina.
However, in the cases where people presented without traditional chest pain, more of these were women, and they were more likely to report these symptoms.
Signs can be confusing
The problem is that researchers say people who do not report chest pain are more likely to be misdiagnosed in the emergency department.
Dr. Frid says, though, a lot can be learned from these results. A study like this can help make women more aware of what to watch for, he says, even though the signs of heart attack can be subtle and sometimes confusing.
“Physicians should be aware, too, of how they should be potentially evaluating patients who come in with something that is somewhat atypical,” adds Dr. Frid.
Even if you don’t have chest pain but have these other heart attack symptoms, don’t dismiss it — get help immediately.
Your Heart Attack ‘To Do’ List (Infographic)