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Study Finds Heart Attack Misdiagnosis Common in Women

Study Finds Heart Attack Misdiagnosis Common in WomenA new study has found that women are more likely than men to be given a heart attack misdiagnosis, as their symptoms are often downplayed as anxiety. Researcher’s at McGill University in Montreal surveyed 1,123 patients aged 18 to 55, after admittance to one of 24 hospitals in Canada, one in the United States, and one in Switzerland.

Patients were polled within 24 hours of admittance to a hospital, completing a survey asking questions on gender-related issues such as “traditional” masculine and feminine personality traits, household responsibilities, education, and health status prior to the heart attack.

The team was attempting to determine the underlying cause of the difference in mortality rates for men and women with acute coronary syndrome.

“Patients with anxiety who present to the emergency department with noncardiac chest pain tend to be women, and the prevalence of [heart attack or chest pains] is lower among young women than among young men,” the Canadian researchers said. “These findings suggest that [emergency-room staff] might initially dismiss a cardiac event among young women with anxiety.”

Heart attack misdiagnosis

Most of the women who participated in the study came from lower income families, and were at a greater risk of having diabetes, high blood pressure, and a family history of heart disease than the men surveyed. Additionally, they also had higher levels of anxiety and depression.

Through careful observation, researchers found electrocardiograms were used to check heart rhythms and fibrinolysis to prevent blood clots much faster in men than women. These findings are very alarming, as early treatment for a heart attack can not only curb the amount of damage to the heart, it can also save a person’s life.

Findings revealed that it took 15 to 28 minutes for men to receive ECGs or fibrinolysis from the time they arrived at the emergency room, while it took 21 to 36 minutes for women to receive these treatments.

Researchers cite women’s higher levels of anxiety as the main reason for the difference.

“Anxiety was associated with failure to meet the 10-minute benchmark for ECG in women but not in men,” said the researchers, led by Dr. Louise Pilote, a professor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal.

Additionally, the researchers found that patients with multiple heart attack risk factors and those with heart attack symptoms that were considered abnormal also received a delay in care.

Feminine traits also to blame

Although men received faster treatment overall, researchers found that both males and females exhibiting feminine personality traits received a delay in care, compared to those with more masculine mannerisms.

“A novel finding of our study was the identification of gender-related determinants of access to care,” adds lead author Roxanne Pelletier, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Division of Clinical Epidemiology at the RI-MUHC and a Clinical Psychologist.

“Men and women who reported higher levels of feminine personality traits, as well as those who reported being the person at home mainly responsible for housework, were less likely to undergo invasive procedures.”

The researchers noted that closer attention may be necessary for patients arriving at the emergency room with no chest pain, a number of heart attack risk factors, and feminine personality traits.