Heart attacks more likely to be missed in women than men

Chest pain is misdiagnosed more frequently in women than men, according to new findings presented at ESC Acute CardioVascular Care 2021.

“Our findings suggest a gender gap in the first evaluation of chest pain, with the likelihood of heart attack being underestimated in women,” study author Dr. Gemma Martinez-Nadal of the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona, Spain, said in a prepared statement. “The low suspicion of heart attack occurs in both women themselves and in physicians, leading to higher risks of late diagnosis and misdiagnosis.”

The authors explored data from nearly 42,000 patients who presented at an emergency department with chest pain from 2009 to 2019. While 42% of those patients were women, the median age was 65 years old for women and 59 years old for men.

According to the team’s findings, 41% of women wait 12 hours or longer after first noticing their symptoms to go to the hospital. That number was 37% for men. In addition, when imaging findings did not lead to a definitive diagnosis, doctors said the probable cause of chest pain was acute coronary syndrome for 44.5% of men and just 39% of women. This trend was true, the authors added, even when considering a wide variety of other risk factors.

“This is worrying since chest pain is the main symptom of reduced blood flow to the heart because an artery has narrowed,” Martinez-Nadal said in the same statement. “It can lead to a myocardial infarction which needs rapid treatment.”

ESC Acute CardioVascular Care 2021is a virtual conference hosted by the European Society of Cardiology. More information is available here.