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Study: Heart attack symptoms in younger women

February 21, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
New research reveals that when it comes to heart disease, women between the ages of 18 to 55 have a lot of things working against them. They don't think a heart attack could happen to them. And if it does, they may not recognize the signs.

The reason why so many people die from heart attacks is because they ignore the symptoms. Chest pain is the hallmark symptom of a heart attack, but women often suffer different symptoms or possibly none at all. A new study finds a significant gender gap in the diagnosis and the outcome of heart attacks in younger women.

"The classical symptom really involves chest discomfort. However, it's possible to have a heart attack in the absence of chest pain," said Dr. John Canto.

Chest pain is the hallmark symptom of a heart attack. But younger women often experience other symptoms.

Besides jaw pain, other atypical symptoms of a heart attack include: pain radiating down the arm, pressure in the chest, shortness of breath, and panic or a sense of impending doom.

Now researchers say they've found it's a combination of a woman's age and experiencing atypical symptoms that can raise her risk of dying from a heart attack.

"Women were more likely than men to present with atypical symptoms following a heart attack -- that is, the absence of chest discomfort -- but it was most pronounced in the younger age group, less than 55," said Canto, who was part of the study.

The report, provided by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), also expresses the concern that if women don't recognize the symptoms, they may not seek treatment.

Experts say as women age they start to show the same symptoms, such as chest pain, that men experience.

Heart disease is the number-one killer of women. Experts say this study underscores the importance of living a heart-healthy lifestyle early on in life.

Researchers stress that chest pain and discomfort are still the primary symptoms among patients with heart attack.