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12/23/2009 - News

Typical Heart Attack Symptoms Just as Common in Women

By: June Chen, MD


You may have heard that it is more difficult to diagnose heart attack in women because they have different symptoms than men. However, according to a new study presented that the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress and published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, women are just as likely as men to experience chest pain and other typical heart attack symptoms.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia School of Nursing asked 305 patients who were undergoing elective angioplasty what they felt while the angioplasty balloon was restricting blood supply to heart. Both women and men were equally likely to report chest discomfort or other typical heart attack symptoms. Of note, women were more likely to report non-chest pain, such as pain in the neck, jaw, and throat.

Other recent studies have also suggested that the perception that women have different heart attack symptoms than men is misguided. This new study adds fuel to the fire and emphasizes the importance of public education initiatives aimed at making women more aware of their risk for heart attack and other cardiovascular disease complications.


Can J Cardiol 2009;25(suppl B): 115b.


Created on: 10/30/2009
Reviewed on: 12/23/2009

Your rating: None
Anonymous wrote 8 weeks 6 days ago

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

A more accurate and helpful headline, 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 just wondering about what sensations are felt during a cardiac catherization procedure. But patients studied described symptoms during a non-emergency, scheduled cardiac catheterization procedure in the cath lab - not during a real-time heart attack.

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 very well aware of chest pain as THE textbook heart attack symptom. What surprises them, however, are the "vague" symptoms that are more typical for women than for men: the crushing fatigue, the back pain, or, as Mayo Clinic cardiologists say, the "sense of impending doom". When my fellow heart attack survivors have experienced chest symptoms during an MI, they often describe them as tightness, heaviness, fullness or pressure - NOT as pain. About 40% of women, in fact, experience no chest symptoms at all. And many of us describe cardiac symptoms that "come and go" - a scenario that's impossible to replicate in the carefully-monitored venue of the cath lab.

I have found that it's an uphill battle to educate women about vague heart attack symptoms that should not be ignored. This study succeeds in perpetuating the stereotypical belief of most women in the "Hollywood Heart Attack".

For compellling and surprising lists of actual symptoms experienced during real heart attacks, read: "How Does It Really Feel To Have a Heart Attack? Women Survivors Tell Their Stories" at

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