01/28/2013 01:55 EST

Heart Attack Symptoms: Study Finds Symptoms Can Be Different For Men And Women


A sharp pain in the chest could mean one thing for women and another for men.

According to a recent study from The Society for Vascular Surgery, even though chest pain is a common symptom for heart attacks for both sexes, many women may not always feel a particularly painful discomfort.

“Women’s symptoms can be much more subtle and they may not feel the excessive chest pressure than many men experience," says Dr. Katherine Gallagher, associate professor of surgery at the University of Michigan and a member of the Society for Vascular Surgery, in a press release. "Women display other more common symptoms like shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort, nausea or vomiting and back or jaw pain.”

Gallagher adds that women may also experience symptoms of uncomfortable pressure, squeezing or discomfort in the centre of the chest, along with pain in the lower chest, upper back, neck or arms, or even common flu symptoms like dizziness or fatigue.

In Canada, an estimated 70,000 people experience heart attacks each year — that's equivalent to one heart attack every seven minutes, according to the Heart And Stroke Foundation. The organization also adds that each year, an estimated 16,000 Canadians die as a result of heart attacks. A 2009 report also found that more women in Canada died from heart disease (including heart attack, stroke and heart failure) than men, according to The Globe and Mail.

But at times, the problem for women was distinguishing between a heart attack symptom or just pain. Gallagher's research found many women complained about having aches and pains, but blamed it on age, acid reflux or just took an aspirin. While others thought they were too young to have a heart attack.

While the cause of heart attacks are sometimes genetic, there are ways to reduce your risk. Gallagher says quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy diet and getting at least 30 minutes of exercise everyday are easy ways to decrease your chances.

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