Study: Breast implants may cause mistaken heart attack diagnosis

MONACO — Having breast implants may enhance a woman’s bust, but they can get in the way of a doctor’s ability to measure heart activity with an electrocardiogram (ECG) and lead to a mistaken heart attack diagnosis, a new study finds.

Doctors at Princess Grace Hospital in Monaco had electrophysiologists examine ECG recordings of 48 women — 28 of whom had breast implants. All participants were the same age, had no previous heart conditions and were in generally in good health.

Breast implants
A new study finds that women with breast implants may be mistakenly diagnosed as suffering from a heart attack when undergoing an electrocardiogram.

The ECG recordings — typically used by doctors when patients report chest pain — were analyzed by two different specialists who were given no demographic or health data on the women, nor were they told if the readings came from women with breast implants.

When it came to the recordings for the women with breast implants, one electrophysiologist reported that 38% of the group showed abnormal heart activity, while the other identified abnormal activity in 57% of the women.

Meanwhile, all of the women in the control group were determined to have normal heart activity by one electrophysiologist, while the other found all but one woman to be normal.

“The main difference between the two groups of women was the breast implants so we think the abnormal ECG recordings were false readings due to the implants,” explains Dr. Sok-Sithikun Bun, a cardiologist at the hospital and lead author of the study. “Doctors could mistakenly conclude that a patient with breast implants has a manifestation of coronary artery disease if they believe in the false ECG findings.”

Bun initiated the research after recognizing in previous patients that ultrasound technology was unable to penetrate the implants.

“Albeit echocardiography is difficult in women with implants, these measurements indicated that they had normal hearts and no structural heart disease, which suggests that there was no heart problem that could explain the abnormal ECGs,” he says.

Bun adds that the research is important for doctors to keep in mind so that women aren’t treated for heart conditions they’re not actually suffering from. Similarly, women with breast implants should inform their doctors of the enhancements before undergoing procedures.

“When a patient comes to the emergency department with chest pain an ECG is performed to see if they are having a heart attack,” he says. “Doctors should be aware that ECG interpretation can be misleading in patients with breast implants. In case of any doubts regarding the diagnosis,  blood tests need to be performed depending on the symptoms.”

Because of the alarming finding, researchers say it would be wise for women undergoing breast enhancement surgery to have their doctor perform an ECG. The recording could be kept on file for future use should she ever need another recording after the surgery.

The study’s findings were presented at the European Heart Rhythm Association EUROPACE – CARDIOSTIM conference in Vienna last week.