Why Women’s Heart Attacks Went Unnoticed for So Long


woman with female doctorAlthough heart attacks can happen to anyone, for a long time they have been generally thought of as a man’s problem. However, as awareness of medical gender differences has improved, women’s heart health has become an important topic of research.

A Gender Bias in Medicine?

Aside from reproductive health, many doctors and scientists in the past have treated women’s heart health the same as men’s when it comes to heart attacks. However, heart attacks in women often appear in different ways and at different times of life than in men.

One possible reason for the historical lack of research in women’s heart health is because men tend to have heart attacks at a younger age. This made heart disease in men a more obvious condition. A man experiencing a heart attack at the age of 50 was typically more obvious than a woman experiencing one in her 70s.

Historically, cardiovascular research practices were also often designed around the male anatomy. This has benefitted men’s heart health a great deal, but many women suffering heart disease did not see the same benefits.

Benchmarks designed to measure the risk of heart failure were often based on heart attacks in men, so at-risk women sometimes didn’t appear to be at risk.

Differences Between Men and Women’s Heart Health

Angiograms and other imaging techniques also have sometimes missed heart disease in women due to physical differences like smaller arteries. While heart attacks commonly happen because of a blocked artery, women more often experience problems that affect the condition of the artery walls so blood flow is compromised even though a significant blockage is not present.

Finally, women don’t often show the classic warning signs that appear during a heart attack. Unlike men, women  often experience symptoms such as nausea, trouble breathing and pains in their jaw and back before experiencing cardiac arrest.