Page last updated at 11:07 GMT, Sunday, 25 October 2009

Women have 'same heart symptoms'

Women holding chest
The classic symptoms of a heart attack are equally common in men and women

It is a myth that women have different heart attack symptoms from men, according to Canadian researchers.

A study presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress found no gender differences in symptoms after studying 305 patients undergoing angioplasty.

They say it is a commonly held belief that men and women feel the effects of a heart attack differently.

Dr Beth Abramson, of Canada's Heart and Stroke Foundation, said: "Heart disease is an equal-opportunities killer."

'The Myth'

In 2003 a study by the US National Institutes of Health did suggest that many women never had chest pains and that their symptoms were not as predictable.

Shortness of breath

Martha Mackay, who led the Canadian research, said these latest findings suggested that this simply was not the case.

In the study, researchers found was that the women had all the classic symptoms like chest pain and also tended to have pain in the throat, jaw and neck.

She said: "Clear educational messages need to be crafted to ensure that both women and healthcare professionals realise the classic symptoms are equally common in men and women."

The average age of the people undergoing angioplasty was 63 and nearly 40% of them were women.

'No gender differences'

As part of the angioplasty procedure a balloon is inflated inside the blocked blood vessel to stretch it out.

This can briefly cause pain and discomfort which is the same as the patient would feel if they are having a heart attack.

During inflation, the patients were questioned about their current sensations and an electrocardiogram measurement was taken before inflation and when the balloon was deflated.

A total of 245 (83%) had ischemia or a decreased blood supply in their blood vessel.

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

Women were significantly more likely to report throat, jaw and neck discomfort, as well as only non-chest discomfort.

The gender effect was increased after controlling for age, urgency, a prior heart attack or a prior angioplasty.

Dr 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 said: "Heart disease is an equal opportunities killer - the differences between women and men are negligible.

"Women do tend to present about seven to 10 years later than men when they are older and sicker.

"The first thing most people feel is a heaviness in the chest and we all need to be aware of that."

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