The statistics around heart attack diagnosis and treatment in women around the world are alarming. Not only are females half as likely as men to receive proper treatment, they’re also twice as likely to die within six months after being discharged.
Julie Anne Mitchell, Director of Prevention at the Heart Foundation, says this shows a troubling lack of awareness.
“Almost three times as many women will die of heart disease than will of breast cancer. Films, books and TV shows regularly reinforce the view that heart attacks only happen to men,” Julie Anne told Women’s Health.
It also reflects the concerning trend of dismissing women’s health concerns.
“Some medical staff do not always think a woman may be having a heart attack and may attribute her symptoms to other conditions; this can in turn lead to a delay in the diagnosis of a heart attack.”
This unconscious bias is highlighted in new research that found women suffering heart attacks were more likely to die when being treated by a male doctor.
Adding to the complexity of the issue, heart attack can present very differently in women, compared to men.
“We also know that the warning signs of a heart attack in women can be more subtle, leading to delays in women getting to hospital as quickly as they should.”
“Chest pain is a common sign of a heart attack in both men and women. However, women are more likely to experience symptoms not involving chest pain.”
Symptoms of heart attack in women include:
- Pain, pressure, heaviness or tightness in their arm(s), shoulder(s), neck, jaw or back
- Cold sweat
- Shortness of breath
“The bottom line is to trust your intuition and act fast: call triple zero if you think something is wrong,” Julie Anne says. “The quicker you get treatment, the better your chances of survival. And if it turns out not to be a heart attack, then that is the best outcome of all.”
Julie Anne also recommends having a heart health check with your doctor to know your personal risk of heart disease; understanding the warning signs of a heart attack and act fast if you think something is wrong; and help raise awareness of this issue by telling three women you know why heart health in women is important.
The Heart Foundation is also working with health professionals to ensure our messages about women and heart disease are reinforced.
"We also need to increase our understanding of heart disease in women," she adds. "Most heart research done in the past had been conducted on men and then the findings applied to women. But we now know that a woman’s body size and the role of hormones across a woman’s life can have some influence on her heart health. Recognising this, the Heart Foundation has funded research specifically to investigate how heart disease in women is developed, diagnosed and managed. This will add to the growing level of new knowledge in this area."