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Why Is Women’s Heart Attack Difficult to Detect?

Being the leading cause of death for women in United States, heart disease has ended the life of nearly half a million (459,000) women each year. One of the reasons quoted by health experts for such a terrifying figure is that when heart attack hits women, the usual symptoms do not appear to alert them or even the medical staffs. As such, they did not receive appropriate medical assistances in time to save their life.

Researchers from the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center found that women often receive less treatment for heart attacks as compared to men because women suffer from ‘atypical’ symptoms and ‘invisible’ blood vessel blockages. The new findings were published online on May 6, 2008 in the journal Heart.

Despite having a heart attack, women were twice likely as men to have normal results for an examination of their blood vessels or results showing no blockage of more than 50 percent in a blood vessel, whereas other test results did confirm they were having a heart attack.

While the top symptom to detect heart attacks for both men and women is still chest pain, lack of serious blood vessel blockages among women might explain why they often get less treatment than men do.

The researcher studied data from 25,755 men and women in 14 countries, who had a heart attack or chest pain episode between 1999 and 2006, all of them had undergone an angiogram. An angiogram is a procedure that allows doctors to see whether there is any blockage in the heart's blood vessels. Such blockage can cause heart attacks, chest pain and strokes.

Even with the same level of coronary artery disease as men, women were significantly less likely to receive drugs or statins, which could help prevent future heart attacks. Irrespective of the gravity of their blockages, women were also less likely to get an angioplasty or a stent to open up their blood vessels. In the study, women who had more advanced coronary artery disease were more likely to suffer another heart attack or died than men within 6 months of their initial heart or angina attack.

The study also found that female patients often described different symptoms than men when they first reported to the hospital. During heart attack, although 94 percent of men and 92 percent of women reported feeling chest pain, female patients with no chest pain were more likely to describe "atypical" symptoms such as nausea and jaw pain.

In the past, great efforts have been made in treating women with heart disease. However, with the new data found, the researchers admit that there is still much to be done, for example, to find out whether women might have blockages that are 'invisible' on angiograms.

 

 

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