Background: Coronary heart disease is a major problem in both men and women, but several studies have shown sex differences in symptoms of acute coronary syndromes (ACS). Some findings, however, have been disparate and inadequate, and thus a comprehensive overview of this literature would be of value.
Method: Fifteen studies that identified symptoms of ACS for both women and men were examined through a review of the literature from 1989 to 2002. Terms used for the search included "myocardial infarction," "symptoms," "gender differences," and "acute coronary syndromes."
Results: Although chest pain was the most common symptom in both men and women, several differences were also noted. In all types of ACS, women had significantly more back and jaw pain, nausea and/or vomiting, dyspnea, indigestion, and palpitations. In a number of studies, which solely sampled patients with acute myocardial infarction, women demonstrated more back, jaw, and neck pain and nausea and/or vomiting, dyspnea, palpitations, indigestion, dizziness, fatigue, loss of appetite, and syncope. Men reported more chest pain and diaphoresis in the myocardial infarction sample. The designs and methodologies of the studies varied considerably.
Conclusion: In addition to the typical symptom of chest pain in ACS, women experience other atypical symptoms more frequently than men. Thus, there may be sex differences in the symptoms of ACS, differences that have a bearing not only on clinical practice, but also on the interpretation of available clinical studies and the design of future investigations.