Heart Attacks Often Different and Deadlier in Women, New Study Finds

In movies, heart attacks are often marked by theatrical chest clutching, often in response to a shocking or otherwise plot-relevant event and sometimes used to comedic effect.

But while heart attacks are often expected to come with sudden chest pain, a surprising new study indicates just how often this may not be the case- and that certain demographic groups are at a much higher risk of missing out on aggressive treatment due to the lack of this expected symptom. The massive study included 1.1 million people, and younger and middle-aged women were far more likely to experience a heart attack without chest pain. In the study, 42% of women admitted to the hospital for a heart attack did not report the symptom, compared with just under 31% of men.

Scarily, the lack of chest pain and subsequent possible less-aggressive treatment often translated into less desirable outcomes. The mortality rate for men in the study was 10%, compared to 15% for women. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), and director of the chest pain center at Lakeland Regional Medical Center in Florida Dr. John G. Canto was one of its authors. Canto commented of the differing outcomes:

“We think part of the reason is that women who are presenting with a heart attack might not have that classical presentation. So they may not be recognized as having a heart attack, and possibly some of these patients may present too late to receive lifesaving procedures.”

Cumulatively, 35% of patients presenting with a heart attack never experience symptoms at all. But women under the age of 55 had two to three times the risk of death after a heart attack if they experienced no pain versus men of the same age group who experienced typical symptoms of a heart attack.


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