Log In
Tuesday 25th October 2016

Gender link to heart attack signs?

27th October 2009

While women tend to present with symptoms of heart attack later in life than men, their symptoms do not differ from those of men, Canadian researchers say.

heart surgery

Delegates to the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress heard that the common belief that women have different heart attack symptoms from men was inaccurate.

The study presented to the congress concluded that there were no gender differences in symptoms among 305 angioplasty patients.

The belief that women's symptoms were different was somewhat supported by a study by the US National Institutes of Health in 2003, which suggested that many women had never felt chest pains.

Beth Abramson, of Canada's Heart and Stroke Foundation, said that heart disease should be seen as an equal-opportunities killer.

Lead research Martha Mackay said her team's findings suggested that women's symptoms were no different from those of men.

Women in the study reported all the classic symptoms like chest pain, as well as throat, jaw and neck pain.

Mackay said that a clear educational message needed to be sent to healthcare professionals.

Nearly 40% of the study's subjects, who had an average age of 63, were women.

Angioplasty involves inflating a balloon inside a blocked blood vessel to stretch it out. The sensations bear a temporary resemblance to those experienced during a heart attack.

The patients were questioned about their sensations while the procedure was going on.

They also received an electrocardiogram measurement before and after inflation of the balloon.

No gender differences were found in rates of chest pain or typical acute coronary syndrome (ACS) symptoms regardless of their ischemic status.

Beth Abramson of the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation, said that while women may describe their pain differently from men, the most common symptom in women was still chest pain.

She added that women tended to have the symptoms of heart attack between seven and 10 years later in life than men did.

She said the first thing most people feel is a heaviness in the chest.

Share this page


Carolyn Thomas

Saturday 31st October 2009 @ 2:49

As a heart attack survivor and a 2008 graduate of the "Mayo Clinic Science & Leadership Symposium For Women With Heart Disease" in the U.S., I am concerned about both this study's conclusions and its appallingly sensationalized media coverage, from the BBC to Canadian Press to, yes, Hc2d as well.

A more accurate and helpful headline than yours for example might have been: "WOMEN EXPERIENCE MORE THROAT, JAW and NECK PAIN THAN MEN DURING HEART ATTACKS".


The study's conclusions might be significant if you're merely wondering about what sensations are felt during a cardiac catherization procedure. The patients studied described symptoms during a non-emergency, scheduled cardiac catheterization procedure in the cath lab - not during a real-time heart attack, which I can assure you from personal experience with both scenarios are not remotely similar.

Since returning from the Mayo Women's Heart Clinic, I've done presentations about women and heart disease to thousands of women, who are universally well aware of chest pain as THE textbook heart attack symptom. What surprises them, however, are the "vague" symptoms that are less well known: the crushing fatigue, the back pain, or even, as Mayo Clinic cardiologists call it, the "sense of impending doom".

When my fellow heart attack survivors at Mayo Clinic did experience chest symptoms during an MI, women often describe these as tightness, heaviness, fullness or pressure - NOT as pain. About 40% of women, in fact, experience no chest symptoms at all during their heart attacks.

And many of us women describe our cardiac symptoms that "come and go" - a scenario that's impossible to replicate in the carefully-monitored cath lab.

I have found that it's an uphill battle to educate women about these vague heart attack symptoms. This study succeeds in perpetuating the stereotypical belief of most women in the "Hollywood Heart Attack".

For compellling and surprising lists of actual symptoms women experience during real-life heart attacks, read" "How Does It Really Feel To Have a Heart Attack? Women Survivors Tell Their Stories" at http://myheartsisters.org/2009/08/14/how-does-it-feel/

Carolyn Thomas

Post your comment

Only registered users can comment. Fill in your e-mail address for quick registration.

Your email address:

Your comment will be checked by a Healthcare Today moderator before it is published on the site.

M3 - For secure managed hosting over N3 or internet
© Mayden Foundation 2016