Women's Heart Attack Symptoms "Atypical"

Chest pain, discomfort, and numbness in the left arm have long been associated as the “hallmark symptoms” of a heart attack.  These symptoms are triggers not only in the mind of the patient, but also the medical staff admitting and treating the patient, to first look at the possibility of a heart attack.  What if these symptoms aren’t there?

Women more likely to have a heart attack with none of the traditional symptoms.

A new study is raising concern there are men and women suffering heart attacks with no chest pain or the “hallmark symptoms”, thus receiving delayed and differences in treatment compared to patients who have more traditional symptoms of a heart attack.  The Journal of the American Medical Association preliminary study looked at more than a million heart attack patients from 1994 to 2006, concluding 31 percent of male patients and 42 percent of female patients did not have any chest pain or discomfort.

In addition to those findings, researchers discovered more “atypical symptoms” occurred in women than men, especially younger women.   Atypical symptoms leading to a heart attack, according to the study, include “unexplained shortness of breath, or pain in areas including the jaw, neck, arms, back and stomach”.

In fact, women are more likely than men to suffer a heart attack without chest pains up until the age of 65.  The study also showed younger female heart attack patients (under 45), who did not experience chest pain, were 20 percent more likely to die than male heart attack patients their same age. 

Oklahoma Heart Institute’s Chief of Cardiology, Dr. Wayne Leimbach, warns of the need for everyone to know the risk factors for heart disease, “This is a real problem and it is important to know the risk factors.  If you are at high risk, make sure you are evaluated to make sure you don’t have significant coronary disease.”

To prevent blockages in the blood vessels to the heart (and prevent a heart attack), there are six factors (plus three added by the INTERHEART study) which are treatable:

1)      High Blood Pressure

2)      High Blood Cholesterol and Triglyceride Levels (Called Lipids)

3)      Diabetes (High Blood Sugar)

4)      Smoking

5)      Lack of Regular Exercise

6)      Increased Inflammation in the Body (Measured by a “hs-CRP” Blood Test)

7)      Fruit & Vegetable Intake

8)      Depression

9)      Alcohol Consumption (Small Amount Has a Protective Effect)

For more information on preventing heart attacks, please read the article, “Prevent a Heart Attack.”

Article written by Amanda Armstrong, Source: Dr. Wayne Leimbach MD, FACC, FSCAI, FCCP, FAHA; and The Journal of the American Medical Association.