Symptoms of a first acute myocardial infarction in women and men

Gend Med. 2009 Sep;6(3):454-62. doi: 10.1016/j.genm.2009.09.007.


Background: Many studies have compared women and men for symptoms of acute myocardial infarction (AMI), but findings have been inconsistent, largely because of varying inclusion criteria, different study populations, and different methods.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to analyze gender differences in symptoms in a well-defined, population-based sample of women and men who experienced a first AMI.

Methods: Information on symptoms was collected from the medical charts of all patients with a first AMI, aged 25 to 74 years, who had taken part in the INTERGENE (Interplay Between Genetic Susceptibility and Environmental Factors for the Risk of Chronic Diseases) study. INTERGENE was a population-based research program on risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Medical charts were reviewed for each patient to determine the symptoms of AMI, and the prevalence of each symptom was compared according to sex.

Results: The study included 225 patients with a first AMI: 52 women and 173 men. Chest pain was the most common symptom, affecting 88.5% (46/52) of the women and 94.8% (164/173) of the men, with no statistically significant difference between the sexes. Women had significantly higher rates of 4 symptoms: nausea (53.8% [28/52] vs 29.5% [51/173]; age-adjusted odds ratio [OR] = 2.78; 95% CI, 1.47-5.25), back pain (42.3% [22/52] vs 14.5% [25/173]; OR = 4.29; 95% CI, 2.14-8.62), dizziness (17.3% [9/52] vs 7.5% [13/173]; OR = 2.60; 95% CI, 1.04-6.50), and palpitations (11.5% [6/52] vs 2.9% [5/173]; OR = 3.99; 95% CI, 1.15-13.84). No significant gender differences were found in the proportions of patients experiencing arm or shoulder pain, diaphoresis, dyspnea, fatigue, neck pain, abdominal pain, vomiting, jaw pain, or syncope/lightheadedness. No significant differences were found in the duration, type, or location of chest pain. The medical charts listed numerically more symptoms in women than in men; 73.1% (38/52) of the women but only 48.0% (83/173) of the men reported >3 symptoms (age-adjusted OR = 3.26; 95% CI, 1.62-6.54).

Conclusions: Chest pain is the most common presenting symptom in both women and men with AMI. Nausea, back pain, dizziness, and palpitations were significantly more common in women. Women as a group displayed a greater number of symptoms than did men.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Back Pain / etiology*
  • Chest Pain / etiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dizziness / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myocardial Infarction / complications*
  • Myocardial Infarction / diagnosis
  • Nausea / etiology*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Sex Factors