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Men vs. Women: Confusion Over Heart Symptoms

Mistaken Beliefs About Heart Attack Symptoms Can Delay Critical Care
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WebMD Health News

Feb. 18, 2005 -- Both men and women can experience "atypical" heart attack symptoms, as well as classic signs of a heart attack.

People need to know that so they seek emergency help immediately for those symptoms. But some patients may have mistaken beliefs about heart attack differences in men and women, say Jill Quinn and Kathleen King of the University of Rochester's nursing school in New York.

Quinn, PhD, RN, CS-ANP, is an assistant professor specializing in cardiovascular nursing. King, PhD, RN, FAAN, is a professor with a focus on women and heart disease.

"Expectations that only women experience atypical symptoms can lead to confusion for both men and women, resulting in delay [of seeking treatment]," they told the Second International Conference on Women, Heart Disease, and Stroke, which is underway in Orlando, Fla.

Heart Attacks in Men vs. Women

Everyone needs to take care of his or hear heart. Heart disease is a leading killer for both sexes. A heart attack is its most visible sign, says the American Heart Association (AHA). Last year, the AHA predicted that 700,000 people in America would have their first heart attack in 2004. Another 500,000 heart attack survivors were expected to have another heart attack last year.

Women aren't the only ones who can have "atypical" heart attack symptoms. Men can, too, say Quinn and King.

Likewise, classic heart attack symptoms don't only affect men. Women can experience the same well-known warning signs, such as:

  • A crushing, squeezing, or burning pain, pressure, or fullness in the center of the chest. The pain may radiate to the neck, one or both arms, the shoulders, or the jaw. The chest discomfort lasts more than a few minutes or can go away and return.
  • Shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, chills, sweating, or weak pulse
  • Cold and clammy skin, gray pallor, or a severe appearance of illness
  • Fainting (rare)

Not all of these symptoms occur during a heart attack, but because every second counts, if you experience them call 911 immediately, says the American Heart Association.

Quinn and King studied 41 women and 59 men who had suffered heart attacks. The study centered on heart attack symptoms and any delays in seeking medical care.

Most participants were white. The women were about 70 years old, compared with the men's average age of 60. More men were current or former smokers -- 81%, compared with 56% of the women. No gender differences existed for a history of angina (chest pain), coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, previous heart attacks, or cholesterol.

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