Clinicians sometimes misread heart attack symptoms in women

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Doctors may be more likely to dismiss heart attack symptoms as not heart-related in women younger than age 55, according to a study published online Feb. 20, 2018, by Circulation. This may be the case because women often report other symptoms in addition to chest pain, said the study's authors.

The researchers interviewed more than 2,000 women and 976 men ages 18 to 55 who were hospitalized for a heart attack — what doctors call acute myocardial infarction (AMI) — at 100 hospitals that are participating in a study. They found that both men and women reported chest pain and pressure, but women were more likely to have other symptoms as well, such as pain in the jaw, neck, and arms; indigestion; or shortness of breath. In addition, women were more likely than men to tell their doctors that they thought the symptoms might be stress-related.

Researchers found that 53% of women said that their provider didn't think their symptoms were heart-related, compared with 35% of men. Past research shows that women are more likely to have symptoms other than chest pain when experiencing a heart attack and are more likely than men to die in the hospital from AMI. The authors said more work is needed to identify the differences between male and female AMI symptoms and to help clinicians spot them more accurately.