Women’s Heart Attacks Can Have Hidden Causes

Did you realise that a heart attack is not recognised with the the same symptoms in men and women?


I can remember being told many years ago that women’s heart attacks are very different from those of men but it has taken some time for mainstream science to catch up.

Blocked arteries are a main cause of heart attack in men, according to researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Women however don’t need to have blocked arteries to experience a heart attack as their new study points out.

Why the difference can be dangerous

They found, though, that about 8 percent of women who have chest pain but no blocked arteries actually have scars on their heart that indicate they had a heart attack.

Women who complain of chest pain often are told they haven’t had a heart attack if their arteries aren’t blocked, the researchers said and this can be dangerously misleading.

Their study included 340 women who reported chest pain but did not have blocked heart arteries. An imaging procedure — called cardiac magnetic resonance — revealed that 26 of the women (8 percent) had scars on their heart that indicated prior damage to the heart muscle.

Of those 26 women, about a third were never diagnosed with a heart attack, even though their cardiac scans revealed heart muscle damage.

A year later, 179 of the women had another heart scan. At that point, two women were found to have new heart scarring. In that year, both of the women had been hospitalized for chest pain but were not diagnosed with a heart attack, the study reported.

The study was published Feb. 22 2019 in the journal Circulation and author Dr. Janet Wei commented:

“This study proves that women need to be taken seriously when they complain of chest pain, even if they don’t have the typical symptoms we see in men. Too often, these women are told they don’t have a heart problem and they are sent home, instead of receiving appropriate medical care.”

Study co-author Dr. Noel Bairey Merz added: “Many women go to the hospital with chest pain, but they often aren’t tested for a heart attack because doctors felt they were low-risk. They are considered low-risk because their heart disease symptoms are different than the symptoms men experience.”

Merz is director of the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center in the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai and her comments reflected the fact that Doctors associate certain symptoms with heart attack and those are what they see in men, so may miss the different experience women present.

Keeping your heart healthy

For women prevention really is key and that comes down a healthy diet, good progesterone levels and regular exercise.

Two eating plans — a vegetarian diet that includes eggs and dairy, and the Mediterranean diet — protect your heart equally, a new study shows.

The research included 107 healthy but overweight people, aged 18 to 75, who ate either a low-calorie vegetarian diet that included dairy and eggs, or a low-calorie Mediterranean diet, for three months. After three months, the participants switched diets.

Both diets feature a healthy dietary pattern rich in fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains and nuts; focusing on diet variety, nutrient density and appropriate amount of food; and limiting energy intake from saturated fats.

On either diet, participants lost about 3 pounds of body fat and about 4 pounds of weight overall. They also had similar decreases in body mass index (BMI), an estimate of body fat based on height and weight.

There were two notable differences between the diets, though. The vegetarian diet was more effective at reducing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, while the Mediterranean diet led to larger declines in triglycerides, which increase the risk for heart attack and stroke.