BHF responds to new study on why people don’t know they've had a heart attack

22 December 2016        

Category: BHF Comment

Grey body with red heart

Today the American Heart Association (AHA) revealed a new study which showed a link between people who have a high pain tolerance and unrecognised heart attacks– putting them at risk of poorer outcomes.

The Norwegian study also found ‘silent’ heart attacks happened more in women, suggesting women’s pain tolerance might help to explain why so many don’t realise they’re having a heart attack.

More than 4,000 adults placed their hand in ice-cold water for as long as possible to find out their pain threshold. Researchers found that those who had had a silent heart attack – 8% of participants – kept their hand in the water for much longer than the 4.7% of participants who had recognised their heart attack pain.

Whilst female participants had experienced less heart attacks than men, a large proportion of those were silent – 75% compared to 58% in men. The study offered insight into why this might have been, as more women (38%) absorbed the cold pressor test than men (23%).

What we said:

In response to this new study our Associate Medical Director, Dr Mike Knapton, said:

“Silent heart attack is a major problem in the UK. It is worryingly common for patients to visit their GP having already had a heart attack but they are completely unaware of it.

“Pain threshold may well be the reason for some people not noticing the symptoms of a heart attack but more research needs to be done to help us understand what’s causing others to miss the signs.

“Despite coronary heart disease killing more than twice as many women than breast cancer, we know that women often don’t realise they can be at risk. This makes them more likely to ignore the symptoms and delay getting help. It is important that people in the UK are aware of their risk and for doctors to work with patients to manage any lifestyle changes that can help to reduce this.”

Women and Heart Disease:

Earlier this year the BHF put the spotlight on women and heart disease. We know that more women than men are misdiagnosed by healthcare professionals when they present with symptoms of a heart attack. In fact research by BHF Professor Chris Gale at the University Leeds, showed that women were 50% more likely than men to be given incorrect diagnosis following a heart attack, increasing their risk of death.

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