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Doctors may miss women's signs of a heart attack. Here's why.

People often assume that heart attack symptoms are obvious. Perhaps we've seen it so many times in the movies: Someone stops talking, grabs their arm and collapses. We feel like every heart attack looks the same and that it will be clear if someone is having one.

However, the reality is that symptoms often look different. There are a variety of factors to take into account, including gender. Symptoms can occur differently for men and women. Even when they're similar, each individual may have a rather unique experience.

When a doctor misses the signs and improperly diagnoses a heart attack as something else -- stress or fatigue, for example -- it can be catastrophic for the patient. Quick medical care is necessary to help a person survive. Any delay can be deadly.

Studies have shown that doctors tend to overlook the symptoms with female patients more often than they do with male patients. Here are a few reasons that doctors sometimes miss the signs:

Women may delay going to the hospital

It is critical to seek help the moment you think you are having a heart attack. Don't put it off. Research found that men took about 2.4 hours to go in, whereas women took 3.2 hours. Both are too long.

Women have more additional symptoms

The main symptoms of chest tightness and pain show up in around 90 percent of cases. About half of men -- 45 percent -- only have those symptoms, while 55 percent have three or more. For women, a full 62 percent have extra symptoms. These include nausea, palpitations, indigestion, stomach pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, jaw pain and trouble breathing.

The problem is that doctors do not know it is a heart attack when first meeting with patients. These extra symptoms can prove distracting. They can point doctors in another direction. They may decide that a patient has food poisoning when he or she is actually having a heart attack, for instance.

Patients don't know what's wrong

Again, the misconception that a heart attack is obvious can really become problematic. In many cases, patients don't actually think it's a heart attack. Men tend to think they're having muscle pain. Women tend to think they are suffering from anxiety or stress. Patients themselves can accidentally mislead doctors.

Your legal rights

You trust your doctor to make wise decisions and a correct diagnosis. That's the type of care you need, especially when it's something as serious as a heart attack. If you don't get that level of care, make sure you know what legal options you have.

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