New research on women and the symptoms of heart attack

Be aware of the symptoms, and cut your risk of death by heart attack

New research on women and the symptoms of heart attack

Source: Best Health magazine, January/February 2014; Image: Thinkstock

Many of us know that women are less likely than men to experience chest pain when having a heart attack. But did you know that most research supporting this finding has come from studies in elderly patients? We wondered about younger wome­n­’and found that most younger women do feel chest pain during a heart attack.

That’s according to a Canadian study. From 2009 to 2012, Dr. Nadia Khan of St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, and Dr. Louise Pilote of McGill University Health Centre in Mont­real, studied 1,015 men and women age 55 or younger. The results, published online in September 2013 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, found chest pain to be the predominant symptom of heart attack in both men and women age 55 and under. (Men without chest pain during a heart attack numbered 13.7 percent, compared to 19 percent of women. Women had no chest pain more often than men; the reason for this is unclear.)

Previous research has shown that women under 55 are more likely than men to have their heart attack and angina symptoms mis­diagnosed in the ER, and more likely to die. This may be in part because some women do not present with classic chest pain symptoms, or because physicians may have lower suspicion for heart attack or angina in women, says Khan, who notes, ‘In young women, heart attacks without chest pain are just as severe as heart attacks with chest pain.’

What if you suspect you are having a heart attack, but your symptoms are dismissed? Ask to be tested. ‘Two screening tests for heart attack are an ECG [electrocardiogram] and a blood test that looks for heart enzymes [most commonly, troponin level],’ says Khan. They’re available through your doctor or in ER departments. You should also be aware of your risk for heart disease, and seek urgent medical attention for any symptoms of heart attack’not just chest pain. These include ‘significant fatigue, shortness of breath, cold sweats, feeling hot, pain in the left arm or shoulder, and rapid heart rate,’ says Khan.

February is Heart Month in Canada

‘ Almost 16,000 Canadians die each year as the result of a heart attack
‘ There are an estimated 70,000 heart attacks each year in Canada. That’s one heart attack every seven minutes.
‘ Heart disease and stroke kill seven times as many women as breast
cancer does.
(Source: Heart and Stroke Foundation)

This article was originally titled "Will you know?" in the Jan/Feb 2014 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!