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Chest Pain May Not Be Universal Indicator of Heart Attack

Despite being the leading cause of death among women, heart disease, and related heart attacks often go undiagnosed or are diagnosed too late to avoid major damage. According to a recent study, 15 percent of heart attack patients who are women will die in the hospital compared to only 10 percent of men.

One reason given for the higher rate of death among female heart attack patients is the difference in symptoms that women tend to experience versus those of men. Heart attack misdiagnosis often starts with failing to recognize symptoms other than chest pain as an indicator of heart problems.

A review of 1.1 million heart attack patients revealed that as many as 35 percent of people who have a heart attack report no chest-related symptoms at all. Women are less likely than men to experience chest pain related to a heart attack.

It's not just gender that makes a heart attack misdiagnosis more likely either. Age also plays a role in whether health care professionals are presented with typical symptoms leading to a heart attack diagnosis. Women under 55 are less likely to experience common heart attack symptoms than those older than 55. Women under 55 are also less likely to experience classic heart attack symptoms than men of the same age.

Younger women tend to have more generalized pain than the typical elephant-sitting-on-your-chest pain associated with a heart attack. Women under 55 tend to feel pain in the shoulders, neck, jaw and even their stomach during a heart attack.

Chest pain, however, should not be ignored. The majority of heart attack sufferers do experience some form of pain in the chest. But, those who have additional risk factors, such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, diabetes or who smoke should be aware of additional signs of an impending heart attack and seek professional health care.

Source: Time Healthland, "Heart Attack in Women: Different Symptoms, Higher Risk of Death," Alice Park, February 22, 2012

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