Younger Women Miss Heart Attack Signs

Misunderstood Symptoms Noted by Women Aged 55 and Younger Who've Had Heart Attacks

Medically Reviewed by Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACC on May 02, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

May 2, 2008 -- Heart attack symptoms sometimes get missed or dismissed by women aged 55 and younger, a new study shows.

The study included 30 women aged 55 and younger (average age: 48) who had had heart attacks. The women were interviewed within a week of leaving the hospital after their heart attack.

In those interviews, the women talked about their initial recognition of their symptoms -- and what they did about those symptoms.

Here are the obstacles the women had in recognizing their symptoms:

  • They thought they were too young to be having a heart attack.
  • They had atypical symptoms that lasted for more than a day.
  • They chalked up their symptoms to other conditions, not to a heart attack.

While some women sought treatment straight away, others hesitated for a broad range of reasons, including uncertainty, preference for self-medication, a perception of negative treatment from health care providers, and even being too busy to get their symptoms checked right away.

"Young women described a complex internal dialogue as they decided when to engage the health care system," write the researchers, who included Judith Lichtman, PhD, MPH.

The women also noted that health care workers didn't always immediately recognize the fact that they were having a heart attack.

The findings were presented on May 1 in Baltimore at the American Heart Association's Quality of Care and Outcomes Research in Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke Conference 2008.

Heart Attacks in Women

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of U.S. women. And while heart disease among women becomes more common after menopause, it can -- and does -- affect younger women.

Every year in the U.S., heart disease kills about 16,000 young women and accounts for 40,000 hospitalizations in young women, according to the American Heart Association.

For both women and men, heart attack symptoms can include:

Heart attack symptoms that are more likely to occur in women include:

  • Indigestion or gas-like pain or nausea
  • Unexplained dizziness, weakness, or fatigue
  • Discomfort or pain between the shoulder blades
  • Recurring chest discomfort
  • Sense of impending doom

Those symptoms don't always indicate a heart attack, but the stakes are too high to take chances. Call 911 at the first sign of a possible heart attack.