Doctors are failing to spot heart attacks in women



New research has found that women are 50% more likely than men to be misdiagnosed after a heart attack. These findings follow on the heels of evidence showing that up to 45% of all heart attacks are symptomless or ‘silent’.

“The outcome of a silent heart attack is as bad as a heart attack that is recognised while it is happening,” said Elsayed Soliman, lead author of the study and director of epidemiological cardiology research at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, North Carolina. “And because patients don’t know they have had a silent heart attack, they may not receive the treatment they need to prevent another one.”

Sufferers of silent heart attacks are three times more likely to die as a result of the attack, and, thanks to misdiagnosis, female sufferers are more likely to die than males.

Receiving proper medical care within the first few hours is key. Shocking statistics published in the European Heart Journal reveal that up to 33,000 deaths over 10 years could have been prevented had the NHS followed its own care guidelines for ‘walking’ heart attacks.

Forewarned is forearmed; knowing the warning signs could make the difference between life and death.

Symptoms vary between men and women. In both sexes, the classic feeling of pressure,
fullness or crushing pain in the centre of the chest, which may spread
to the neck, shoulder or jaw, may be experienced, but studies have shown that this symptom is less common in women. The most common symptoms experienced by women include:

  • nausea/vomiting
  • shortness of breath
  • back and jaw pain
  • unusual fatigue experienced over several days; or a sudden, severe fatigue
  • anxiety and sleep disturbances
  • upper abdominal pressure or discomfort similar to indigestion
  • weakness or dizziness
  • lower chest discomfort
  • sweating
  • overwhelming sense of anxiety (similar to panic attack)

These symptoms may be experienced up to a month in advance of a heart attack.

Migraine headaches may also be an early warning sign. Women who experience migraine headaches with aura are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack.

If you are concerned that you may be at risk, call 999 and, if you have a packet handy, chew one adult aspirin (300mg).

More than twice as many women (82,000) die of heart disease as breast cancer. Everyone over 40 is eligible for an NHS heart risk assessment every five years. Let your GP know if you have a history of any of the following risk factors:

  • PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome)
  • Recurrent miscarriage
  • Pre-eclampsia or other blood pressure-related problems experienced during pregnancy
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Early menopause
  • Rheumatic disorders, e.g. rheumatoid arthiritis, lupus or thyroid problems