Younger women, clinicians often dismiss signs of heart attack

Many younger women think they’re too young for a heart attack, and healthcare providers don’t take their initial symptoms seriously enough, researchers concluded after interviewing 30 women hospitalized for acute MI.

Judith Lichtman, MD, chair of the Department of Chronic Disease Epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Conn., and colleagues used in-depth interviews to  examine how women ages 30 to 55 who were hospitalized with acute MI responded during the period when their symptoms first manifested.

Many of the women, even those with multiple risk factors and a family history of cardiac disease, ignored or dismissed the early symptoms and delayed seeking medical care. Some of the women incorrectly assessed their risk of heart disease or let work and family requirements stop them from seeking medical attention. They also tended to not regularly access primary care, including preventative care for heart disease.

“Participants in our study said they were concerned about initiating a false alarm in case their symptoms were due to something other than a heart attack,” Lichtman  said in a press release. “Identifying strategies to empower women to recognize symptoms and seek prompt care without stigma or perceived judgment may be particularly critical for young women at increased risk for heart disease.”

Those who sought help didn’t always receive a prompt or complete workup or a formal diagnosis. That suggests there needs to be a change in how women and healthcare providers respond to symptoms in this age group, Leslie Curry, senior research scientist at the Yale Global Health Leadership Institute and senior author, said in the release.

More than 15,000 women under 55 die from heart disease each year, making it a leading cause of death for that group.

The findings were published online Feb. 24 in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.