Women urged to recognise heart attack signs

If you have a heart attack, getting a fast and accurate diagnosis is crucial to your recovery in both the short and long term. But according to a study part-funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), women have a much higher chance than men of receiving the wrong initial diagnosis following a heart attack.

The study suggests that almost a third of men and women who have a heart attack receive an initial diagnosis that’s different from their final diagnosis. But women have a 50 percent higher chance of being initially misdiagnosed than men. And being misdiagnosed means your chance of not surviving for 30 days following a heart attack is 70 percent higher than someone who is diagnosed correctly, the BHF claims.

“When people with a heart attack receive the wrong initial diagnosis, there are potentially important clinical repercussions, including an increased risk of death,” says one of the experts who worked on the study, Dr Chris Gale, Associate Professor of Cardiovascular Health Sciences and Honorary Consultant Cardiologist at the University of Leeds.

“Typically, when we think of a person with a heart attack, we envisage a middle aged man who is overweight, has diabetes and smokes. This is not always the case; heart attacks affect the wider spectrum of the population – including women.”

The BHF is urging everyone – including health professionals – to be more aware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack in women, which include the following:

  • Chest pain or discomfort (the most recognised symptom of a heart attack, though it’s not always present)
  • Pain radiating to the arms, neck, jaw, stomach and back (for some people the pain is severe but for others just uncomfortable)
  • A feeling of indigestion or reflux type pain (this is often ignored in the hope that it will pass)
  • Feeling sick, sweaty, breathless or lightheaded with associated chest pain or discomfort
  • A general feeling of being unwell or lethargic can also be an indicator of a heart attack when accompanied by chest pain or discomfort

Someone has a heart attack approximately every three minutes in the UK and 28,000 women die from heart attacks each year – that’s an average of 77 per day. The BHF is raising awareness of women and heart disease this month – find out more at www.bhf.org.uk/women

  • Your local Careway pharmacist may be able to help you keep a check on your heart health by offering blood pressure and cholesterol monitoring, and by providing advice on how to lead a heart-healthy lifestyle. Find your nearest participating Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.