News for Women: Heart Attack Symptoms May Be Different Than You Think

From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 9, 2001 -- Interested in improving your health? Then listen up, because most women aren't aware that symptoms of a heart attack can be very different for them than they are for men. This and other potentially dangerous health misconceptions were revealed in a new survey looking at women's health.

More than a third of American women don't realize that they may have different heart attack symptoms than men, according to a poll by Berlex Laboratories and the Society for Women's Health Research, reportedly the nation's only not-for-profit organization whose sole mission is to improve the health of women through research.

Most women think they know the symptoms of a heart attack -- chest pain that radiates down the left arm. But these symptoms are less likely to occur in women than in men.

Your heart attack may show up in a completely different manner, making you think that you have some other problem such as back pain or indigestion. Women having a heart attack are more likely to experience abdominal or mid-back pain, jaw pain, indigestion, or extreme fatigue, then radiating chest pain.

According to this survey, the fault does not lie with you. Only 17% of the women who were aware that their heart attack symptoms might very well differ from a man's learned this information from their doctors.

And the misconceptions don't stop there.

Most women -- close to 70% -- were not aware that if they smoke the same amount as a man, their chance of getting lung cancer is actually greater than a man's. Plus, over half of the women did not realize that smoking would lower the age at which they might have a heart attack.

"Sex-specific medicine is not only about how women respond to disease and treatment differently than men. It's also about improving how health care providers respond to those differences," says Phyllis Greenberger, president and CEO of the Society for Women's Health Research, in a news release.

"The poll shows conclusively that women are not being educated about basic, yet critical, facts about prevention, treatment, and disease management," she says.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD
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