We’ve long-known that heart attack symptoms are often missed in women, and a new study shows just how severe the issue is. New findings released this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association show that female heart attack patients die at a much higher rate than men—even in the hospital.
The study analyzed over one million patients on the National Registry of Myocardial Infarction. What they found is that women are more likely than men to go the hospital without chest pain, and to later die in the hospital of a heart attack. So, not only are women themselves missing the symptoms of a heart attack, doctors may be missing the boat as well.
This is clearly a case of women being treated “too little” and “too late.” As the researchers stated, “…patients without chest pain/discomfort tend to present later, are treated less aggressively, and have almost twice the short-term mortality compared with those presenting with more typical symptoms …[of a heart attack].”
So what can you do to protect yourself, and your loved ones?
- Remember that heart attacks in women are normally far subtler than those in men. While men may have crushing chest pain, women often experience much milder symptoms including: chest discomfort, pain, or pressure; back discomfort; pain or tingling in the jaw, elbow, or arm; throat tightness, shortness of breath; indigestion; nausea or vomiting; lightheadedness with exertion, dizziness, or vertigo; disproportionate sweating with activity; and sudden, profound fatigue. Some women can feel like they just have the flu.
- Don’t let your age fool you. In the JAMA study, younger women without chest pain had the highest mortality rate—probably because they were more likely to dismiss the symptoms. This is one case where you want to err on the side of caution and get your symptoms checked out, even if you’re not sure.
- Keep aspirin in your medicine cabinet (and in your purse or wallet), and chew one as soon as heart attack symptoms begin (don’t swallow it whole). Do not substitute ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or another pain reliever. Only aspirin has the anticoagulant clout that may help disintegrate a possible clot. Also take nitroglycerin as directed if it has been prescribed for you.
- Call 911—don’t attempt to drive yourself to the hospital.
- Once you arrive at the hospital, don’t let the hospital staff waylay you with testing for anxiety, stress, or indigestion. Insist that you want a full cardiac workup.
- Educate yourself about the heart health differences between men and women. Here are 6 Heart Facts Every Woman Should Know. You may also want to read my book HeartSense For Women.
Now it’s your turn: Have you ever found that doctors overlook heart symptoms in women?