Heart attack symptoms in men and women are more alike than some previous studies have indicated, according to research unveiled at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress.
No difference was found between men and women in the reporting of chest pain, the most common symptom associated with a heart attack, and other typical symptoms, such as sweating, shortness of breath and pain in the left arm, said study co-author Martha Mackay, a cardiac nurse and clinical research fellow and doctoral student at the University of British Columbia School of Nursing.
“Some studies have shown no differences . . . but almost as many studies showed that there were differences, and that women reported chest pain less often,” said Mackay, who is also with St. Paul’s Hospital Heart Centre in Vancouver.
“And so this study, I believe it comes closer to settling the issue.”
But one difference was detected, she said, as women reported jaw, neck and throat pain significantly more often than men.
The congress, which got underway Sunday in Edmonton, is being co-hosted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Cardiovascular Society.
For the study, Mackay said her team looked at 305 patients — almost 40 per cent of them women — undergoing angioplasty, a procedure in which a balloon is blown up in an artery to push away blockages.
“During that balloon inflation, for those few moments, you’re actually blocking blood downstream, because it blocks the artery while the balloon is inflated, and that process actually mimics a heart attack,” explained Mackay. “But the difference is it’s a very controlled situation, it’s in a hospital with a bunch of health professionals around, and cardiologists and so on.” The questions about symptoms being experienced were asked during the balloon inflation, she said.
“And we only looked at people that we could show that their heart muscle was actually lacking oxygen during those few moments.”
Mackay said the work began in 2004 and arose from concerns raised by previous research indicating that women tend to delay seeking treatment when they have a heart attack.
“People haven’t been able to sort out why that might be. And one of the theories is that women don’t seek treatment because they don’t understand they’re having a heart attack because their symptoms are different.”
Mackay said women should be counselled that they may well have throat or jaw or neck pain, and if they end up in emergency, they should tell the doctor about all their symptoms.