Women 50% more likely than men to be given incorrect diagnosis after a heart attack


A new study has found that women have a 50% higher chance than men of receiving the wrong initial diagnosis following a heart attack.

The research, part-funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) charity, was carried out at the University of Leeds, using the UK national heart attack register MINAP2, found that overall, almost one third (29.9%) of patients had an initial diagnosis which differed from their final diagnosis.

The two main types of heart attack are STEMI and NSTEMI. STEMI occurs when there's a total blockage of the main artery that pumps oxygenated blood around the body. NSTEMI, which is more common, is a partial blockage of one or more arteries. Both result in serious damage to the heart muscle.

This research found that women who had a final diagnosis of STEMI had a 59% greater chance of a misdiagnosis compared with men. Women who had a final diagnosis of NSTEMI had a 41% greater chance of a misdiagnosis when compared with men.

Receiving a quick diagnosis and getting the correct treatment after a heart attack is paramount to ensure the best possible recovery. Women who were misdiagnosed had about a 70% increased risk of death after 30 days compared with those who had received a consistent diagnosis. The same was the case for men.

The findings published today in the European Heart Journal Acute Cardiovascular Care looked at nearly 600,000 heart attack patients over the course of nine years. Between April 2004 and March 2013, the researchers studied 243 NHS hospitals in England and Wales that provided care for patients between the ages of 18 - 100 at the time of hospitalisation. The number of patients who were initially misdiagnosed was 198,534.

The BHF is urging both the public and healthcare professionals to be more aware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, to avoid mistakes being made in diagnosis. Dr Chris Gale, Associate Professor of Cardiovascular Health Sciences and Honorary Consultant Cardiologist at the University of Leeds who worked on the study, said:

"This research clearly shows that women are at a higher risk of being misdiagnosed following a heart attack than men. When people with heart attack receive the wrong initial diagnosis, there are potentially important clinical repercussions, including an increased risk of death.

"We need to work harder to shift the perception that heart attacks only affect a certain type of person. 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."