By: Laura Vitelli
November 9 2022
Women present with ‘typical’ heart attack symptoms with roughly the same frequency that men do.
The claim that heart attacks present different symptoms in women than men is circulating through social media. Some of these posts present lists of "atypical" heart attack symptoms that, they claim, are the primary ways that heart attacks present in women. Well-meaning social media users usually share these posts intending to raise awareness. Recent research has, however, shown that women experience the same "key" or "typical" heart attack symptoms as men.
Symptoms of a heart attack may vary from person to person; some people may feel excessive fatigue and dizziness without as much of the chest pain classically associated with a heart attack –– but these variations in experience are not definitively split along gendered lines.
In a study published in 2017, researchers at the University of Edinburgh recorded possible heart attack patients' reported symptoms in the Emergency Department (ED) at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. The study found that chest pain or pressure remains the most common and recognizable reported symptom for both men and women, with around 93 percent of both sexes reporting this symptom. A similar percentage of men and women reported pain that radiated to their left arm (48 percent of men and 49 percent of women).
Though previous studies have suggested that men and women experience different heart attack symptoms, these studies have often recorded symptoms after a heart attack diagnosis was confirmed. The University of Edinburgh study took a different approach and recorded the reported symptoms of suspected heart attacks prior to diagnosis on the basis that "while studies reporting sex differences in symptom presentation can boast large study populations, they are limited by the use of retrospective data collection from clinical records or registries of patients with confirmed myocardial infarction and therefore are at risk of selection bias."
The study concluded that "there are more similarities than differences in symptom presentation between men and women." It noted that more women than men reported additional symptoms alongside chest pain, e.g., nausea (33 percent vs. 19 percent). The study hypothesizes that "these additional symptoms in women may cloud their symptom presentation, influence clinician interpretation of symptoms, and provide the basis for the atypical symptom message to gain dominance."
Although there are some slight variations in the frequency of other "additional" symptoms between men and women, this does not suggest the complete discrepancy of symptoms between men and women. Claims to the contrary may endanger women's lives by misleading people to not recognize heart attack symptoms swiftly enough to obtain necessary treatment.