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Despite their high prevalence in both genders, heart attacks more frequently affect women. However, younger patients in this group and their healthcare providers rarely suspect a heart attack even when all symptoms are present. This is partly due to confusion around sex differences in heart disease. Now, new findings have offered some clarification on the warning signs in women under 50.
According to the findings of a new study, “young women” are increasingly suffering heart attacks for no clear reason.
These new findings, presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress, challenge a score of preconceived ideas on the condition.
Stéphane Manzo-Silberman told Medscape: “With more than 90 percent having retrosternal pain, the idea that myocardial infarction presents with atypical symptoms in women […] has been widely challenged.
“[This is] despite the fact that more than half present with related symptoms and it isn’t known in which order these symptoms occur.
“But what we can say is that if at any point a young woman mentions chest pain, even when occurring as part of several other symptoms, myocardial infarction must be deemed a possibility until it has been ruled out.”
A total of 314 women were enrolled in the study, with a median age of 44.9 years.
According to the data, almost two-thirds presented with ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction (heart attack) and the other 122 without.
An analysis of their symptoms revealed that 91.6 percent of the women presented with typical chest pain, and 59.7 percent had related symptoms.
These findings are important as cardiovascular disease, which encompasses heart attacks, heart failure, and heart rhythm problems, is a leading cause of death for women.
The risk factors are similar for both genders, but women sometimes present specific triggers related to hormonal changes or high-risk inflammatory profiles.
One possible explanation for gender disparities is that men typically develop plaque build-up in the large arteries supplying blood to the heart.
Women, conversely, are more likely to experience a fatty build-up in the heart’s smallest blood vessels, medically known as microvasculature.
This has led researchers to believe that symptoms differ significantly across both genders.
By addressing the features of a heart attack in women under the age of 50, however, the latest findings have also challenged several preconceived ideas about sex differences in heart disease.
In previous research, including a study published in the journal Circulation in 2003, chest pain has been identified as the most common warning sign of heart trouble for men.
The findings suggested, however, that chest pain is further down the list of early heart attack symptoms for women.
It transpired that women tended to describe pressure, aching, and tightness in the chest, as opposed to pain.
Even during a heart attack, only around a third of women in the Circulation study reported experiencing the classic symptom of chest pain.
Conversely, scientists found that an impending heart attack was more often signalled by shortness of breath, weakness, fatigue, sweat and dizziness.
This has led researchers to believe that looking out for these symptoms could help women avert a full-blown cardiac event.
However, researchers now argue that recognising chest pain as an early warning sign of heart attack could help women get a promo diagnosis and timely treatment.
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