Women’s Heart Attacks: Risky Delays
New research has found that women wait longer than men to seek medical help for heart attack symptoms. Part of the problem may be that symptoms in women aren’t always the same ones that men experience – pain in the chest and left arm. Instead, the tell-tale signs in women may be back, shoulder or stomach pain. A new study from Switzerland shows that when symptoms appear, affected women wait 37 minutes longer than men before calling for medical help. Heart attacks are just as common in women as men, although the study found that they tend to occur in women eight to 10 years older than the age at which men have heart attacks. Study leader Matthias Meyer, M.D., a cardiologist at Zurich’s Triemli Hospital, warned that “every minute counts when you have a heart attack. Look out for moderate to severe discomfort including pain in the chest, throat, neck, back, stomach or shoulders that lasts for more than 15 minutes. It is often accompanied by nausea, cold sweat, weakness, shortness of breath, or fear.” On the up side, the study found no differences in the timely delivery of care once male or female patients arrived at the hospital. But Dr. Meyer added that “we know from previous studies that delays predict long-term mortality.”
My take? There continues to be misunderstanding among women about their risks of heart disease and heart attack. Women often don’t realize that heart disease is as much of a threat to them as it is to men. While the risk for men is higher at a younger age than it is for women, as women reach menopause, they start to catch up; and by the age of 65, their rate of heart disease equals that of men. In the United States, heart disease remains the leading cause of death in women, claiming nearly 500,000 lives per year (compared to about 40,000 for breast cancer, a disease women tend to fear more). It is very important for women to recognize that regardless of age, a heart attack is possible and that the symptoms may differ from the ones men typically experience. When in doubt, call 911.
Matthias R Meyer, “Gender differences in patient and system delay for primary percutaneous coronary intervention: current trends in a Swiss ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction population.” European Heart Journal: Acute Cardiovascular Care, November 8, 2018; 204887261881041 DOI: 10.1177/2048872618810410
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