Why do doctors miss heart attack symptoms in women

Most people know the common signs of a heart attack: chest pain, pressure and a feeling of tightness. And it goes without saying that doctors know these heart attack symptoms in women, too. But when women experience a heart attack, they often get misdiagnosed. Why is that? New research provides some answers.

In a study published last week in the medical journal, Circulation, researchers observed 2,009 women and 976 men. All the participants were younger than 55 and they were all hospitalized for heart attacks.

Researchers compared the heart attack symptoms between men and women. And they also compared how men and women perceived their symptoms, as well as when they sought medical attention for their symptoms.

Nearly 90 percent of the individuals experienced the common heart attack symptoms, such as chest pain, tightness and pressure. But over 60 percent of the women also experienced symptoms that seemed unrelated to a heart attack.

These symptoms included “indigestion, nausea, stomach pain, palpitations, shortness of breath and jaw, neck or shoulder pain.” Not only did women experience a wider variety of symptoms than men, but according to the study, women were also more likely to see their symptoms as stress or anxiety, rather than muscle pain and tightness.

About 30 percent of the women in the study sought medical help before being hospitalized, but they took longer than men to do so. According to the study, women waited 3.2 hours, while men only waited 2.4 hours before seeking medical attention.

And for the more than 50 percent of women who sought medical attention, doctors didn’t think their symptoms were heart-attack related. And this may be due to not only the variety of symptoms, but also women’s perception of their heart-attack symptoms.

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