Women are 50 percent more likely to receive a wrong initial diagnosis following a heart attack than men, shows new research published in the European Heart Journal: Acute Cardiovascular Care, raising calls for better awareness and improved detection.
The research, carried out at the University of Leeds and part-funded by the British Heart Foundation, looked at data from 600,000 heart attack patients over the course of nine years, and found that, overall, nearly one-third of patients were given an incorrect first diagnosis.
Both women and men who were misdiagnosed had a 70 percent increased risk of death after 30 days compared with those who had received a consistent diagnosis, highlighting the urgent need for improvement.
Dr Chris Gale, Associate Professor of Cardiovascular Health Sciences and honorary consultant cardiologist at the University of Leeds who worked on the study, said the perception that heart attacks only affect a certain type of person must be changed.
"Typically, when we think of a person with a heart attack, we envisage a middle aged man who is overweight, has diabetes and smokes. This is not always the case; heart attacks affect the wider spectrum of the population - including women," he noted.
Also commenting on the findings, Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the BHF, said the difference in accurate diagnosis between women and men is "alarmingly high", but that a recent study by the charity has shown why this might be.
"The research shows that when different limits are applied to the troponin test, a routine test for a heart attack, more women receive a correct diagnosis of heart attack. Thanks to this research there is now a better test for female heart attack diagnoses.
"However more research is urgently needed into tests that will enable earlier and more accurate diagnosis of a heart attack, particularly in women," he noted.
An NHS England spokesman told the media that survival rates are better than they have ever been and that swift diagnosis is key to this.
"We are working hard to continually improve tests for accurately diagnosing heart attacks in both men and women so that correct treatment can begin without delay, ensuring the best possible recovery for patients.
"We are also working to increase awareness of signs and symptoms of heart attack amongst both the public and healthcare professionals as this will help speed up diagnosis."
In the UK there are 188,000 hospital visits each year due to heart attacks, which equates to one every three minutes, according to the BHF. But survival rates have improved dramatically: in the 1960s, more than seven out of 10 heart attacks in the UK were fatal, but now at least seven out of 10 people survive them.