Women's chest pain : Unreliable signs of heart attack!

  • By Sanjay Akolkar

As most men will gladly agree, when it comes to matters of the heart, women can absolutely hoodwink the best of us. Now, even doctors agree with this completely.

According to latest research, chest pain in women is not a real indicator of a heart attack. Isn’t that surprising, considering that we always use the ‘acute chest pain’ and heart attack connection every time.

The research involved study of 800 men and 1700 women, and though the type of chest pain was similar to those experienced by the men, it was not very accurate in pinpointing it down to heart attack (quoting Swiss researchers from a study published in the journal, JAMA Internal Medicine at the University Hospital, Basel).

This notion also seems to have pervaded down to our movies and stories, where people having a heart attack suddenly clutch their chests and collapse, but now when it comes to women, we must have some other way to ascertain that it is indeed a heart attack (not the women in the movies, anyway!)

Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of women and heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City opines that the medical fraternity will have to use objective evaluative tools in cases of heart attacks in women as the traditional chest pain symptoms are misleading.

Furthermore, the research positively encourages the use of electrocardiogram (EKG) and another test known as the cardiac troponin test which bases its diagnosis of heart attacks on the quantum of ‘troponins’ released. During a heart attack, this protein is released in plenty and is a more accurate diagnostic tool than just chest pain. However, that doesn’t mean that all chest pain symptoms in women are not heart attacks. No! It would be foolish to turn a blind eye to any sort of pain in the chest.

What surprised the researchers was the fact that though the 1700 odd women who were monitored showed all the symptoms of heart attack, i.e., shortness of breath, pain in the jaw, nausea and vomiting, only 18 per cent of the women actually suffered a real heart attack. The rest was attributable to something else.

The next time you see a woman clutch her chest in pain, don't fear the worst for it may not be a heart attack. Astounding new research now rubbishes the chest pain-heart attack connection in women.

Another factor that comes up for deliberation here is something called 'atypical presentation of heart disease' where there is absolutely no chest pain or discomfort in women who have had a heart attack.

So chest pain definitely seems to be on its way out as an indicator of heart attack in women.