The risks, symptoms, and outcomes of acute myocardial infarction may be different in women than in men, especially among African American and Hispanic women, according to the first scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA) on heart attacks in women published online ahead of print January 25 in Circulation. 

Take-away points from the statement, published by a group chaired by Laxmi S. Mehta, MD, include:

  • The most common symptom of heart attack is chest pain or discomfort for both sexes, but women are more likely to have atypical symptoms, such as shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and back or jaw pain. 
  • High blood pressure is more strongly associated with heart attacks in women.
  • Young women with diabetes have a risk for heart disease that is higher by 4 to 5 times, compared with young men. 
  • African American and Hispanic women have more heart-related risk factors, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, at the time of their heart attack, compared with non-Hispanic white women. 
  • African American women have a higher incidence of heart attacks in all age categories, and young African American women have higher in-hospital death rates, compared with white women. 
  • Women are undertreated, compared with men. Cardiac rehabilitation is prescribed less frequently for women and when prescribed, women are less likely to undertake the therapy. In addition, African American women are also less likely to be referred for important treatments such as cardiac catheterization, compared with white women.

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