Groundbreaking Statement on Women and Heart Attacks

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women may have different heart attack causes and symptoms than men

A new scientific statement, released January 25th, says women and men may suffer differently from heart attacks. The statement, supported by the American Heart Association (AHA), says women can have different causes and symptoms than men. It’s the AHA’s first ever statement on women and heart attacks.

The new statement’s lead author, Laxmi Mehta, M.D., says there are sex-specific differences in causes of heart attacks. Dr. Mehta says while most cases are caused by plaque-blocked arteries, women often show no sign of blockage. They can also have other types of heart attacks more often than men, including intense spasms in the artery that decrease blood flow or a tear in the artery.

The AHA says even after a heart attack, women without significant artery obstructions may not receive the medications and treatments they need.

The new statement also recognizes several other key differences between men and women during heart attacks. While it’s well known that victims often feel chest pain, women may experience other, uncommon symptoms as well. Those include back, arm, neck or jaw pain. Women may also experience nausea, weakness and a sense of dread. Experts say women also wait longer to get treated. According to the AHA, the median delay is about 54 hours for women compared to just 16 hours for men. Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure are also more potent risk factors for women than for men.

Dr. Mehta says more research is needed to better understand heart attacks in women, as women represent only about one in five participants in cardiovascular disease clinical trials.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics reports that nearly 50,000 women died from heart attacks in 2014. Heart disease is the number one killer of woman nationwide. Reach out to your UnityPoint Health primary care provider with your cardiac concerns and to plan for your healthy future.