Thousands of women having heart attacks are misdiagnosed – often with fatal consequences.
The condition is 50% more likely to be missed in women than in men, with many female patients wrongly told they have other conditions such as indigestion.
Women whose heart attacks are not diagnosed are 70% more likely to die, according to a British study presented at the world’s biggest heart conference.
Dr Mike Knapton of the British Heart Foundation, which helped fund the study, said: “The difference is alarmingly high.”
Experts fear doctors and patients mistakenly believe heart attacks affect only fat middle-aged men who smoke.
Dr Chris Gale, who worked on the nine-year review of 600,000 patients, said: “We need to work harder to shift the perception that heart attacks only affect a certain type of person. If you watch something like ER on TV it’s just blokes with high blood pressure. This is not always the case.
“Heart attacks affect the wider spectrum of the population – including women.”
Around 28,000 women die from heart attacks every year across the country – an average of 77 a day. Every three minutes someone in the UK suffers a coronary. Being diagnosed quickly and correctly is vital to ensure the best chance of recovery.
Dr Gale told the annual congress of the European Society of Cardiology in Rome: “The risk is that a woman presents late as she doesn’t recognise she’s having a heart attack.
“She goes to her GP, and they don’t call for an ambulance so instead she goes to A&E eventually, and by the time she sees a specialist it’s a late diagnosis.
“When people with a heart attack receive the wrong initial diagnosis, there are potentially important clinical repercussions, including an increased risk of death.”
Almost a third of patients had an initial diagnosis that differed from their final one, found the University of Leeds study published in the European Heart Journal Acute Cardiovascular Care today.
A heart attack is caused when a blood clot forms in a narrowed coronary artery, cutting off the blood supply to the heart.
Symptoms vary, but the most common are tightness, pain or a burning feeling in the chest, pain in the arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting.
NHS England said: “Survival rates for heart attacks are the best they have ever been, and swift diagnosis and treatment is key to this. We are working hard to continually improve tests for accurately diagnosing heart attacks in both men and women.
“We are also working to increase awareness of signs and symptoms of heart attack among both the public and healthcare professionals to help speed up diagnosis.”
Heart attack horror
Former nurse Alison Fillingham, 49, did not recognise the symptoms of her heart attack 11 weeks ago – and was misdiagnosed.
The mum from Bolton said: “I had pain in my collarbone and neck for two days. When it spread to my jaw I called an ambulance.
“They said it was just a panic attack. Later I was diagnosed as having had a heart attack. I wish I’d recognised the symptoms and called the ambulance immediately.”