Heart attacks are deadlier for women as ‘vague’ symptoms can be easy to miss

    26 January 2016

    The risk of death following a heart attack is greater for women than men, according to the American Heart Association.

    Coronary heart disease in women is ‘understudied, under-diagnosed and under-treated’, a newly released statement said.

    The statement, prepared by cardiologists, said that while men and women both experience chest pain as a primary heart attack symptom, women’s symptoms are often more vague. They may experience back and shoulder pain, palpitations and anxiety, and some women only experience shortness of breath, nausea or flu-like symptoms.

    The statement’s chair, Dr Laxmi Mehta, said: ‘Over the last 10 years or so, we’ve learned that women’s hearts are different than men’s in some significant ways, and while that’s helped reduce mortality, there’s much more to know. Most heart disease research is done in men, so how we categorise it is based on men. We need more science in women.

    ‘These symptoms can be very challenging for the patient and the medical profession. Women tend to under-recognise or deny them. When they do present to the emergency department, it is important for these symptoms to be triaged appropriately as potential heart problems. Otherwise the consequences are misdiagnosis, delayed treatment and higher death rates.’

    The researchers also discovered that women are more likely to delay seeking treatment than men. This is because they are more likely to live alone, and because their symptoms often seem less serious than those a man would experience.

    There are also biological differences in heart failure between the sexes. Women frequently suffer heart attacks that aren’t caused by blocked arteries, but by artery tears or spasms, which are more difficult to detect.

    ‘We don’t yet clearly understand why women have different causes and symptoms of heart attacks. Women are more complex, there are more biological variables such as hormonal fluctuations. That’s why more research is needed,’ Mehta said.