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Heart Disease Often Misdiagnosed in Women - 2004-08-12

One in five women (more than 33 million) suffer from some form of heart disease in the United States. And more women die from the disease than men. A new study finds that many women are misdiagnosed because their symptoms are often different from men.

Doctors looked at more than 20,000 emergency room patients in 14 countries and discovered that 8 percent of those found to have heart disease never complained of chest pain. Those without chest pain were three-times as likely to die.

Instead of crushing chest pain, women may feel shortness of breath, or pain in their shoulder blades, jaw or neck, or they may experience profuse sweating, nausea, vomiting or fainting.

The screening tests doctors are more likely to use, such as the EKG, may not work as well because of hormonal fluctuations.

Doctors say an echocardiogram may be a better test for some women. Cardiologists can actually see the blood flow to the chambers of the heart.

The study recommends doctors, especially those who work in emergency rooms, increase their awareness of the more subtle signs of heart disease so that early diagnosis can save lives.