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Female Heart Attacks

It might surprise you to learn that one of modern medicine’s deadliest myths is that women rarely suffer heart attacks. Unfortunately it is also a belief held by many doctors, which is why in Britain, according to statistics from the British Heart Foundation (BHF), 70 per cent more women are likely to perish than men within a month of an attack due to the cause going undiagnosed.

New research by the European Society of Cardiology shows how often cardiac conditions go undiagnosed among female patients. The study of more than 41,000 emergency heart attack or angina patients found that nearly 45 per cent of men had their conditions correctly identified, compared with only 39 per cent of women.

The study also found that female patients themselves also fail to suspect that they are having a heart attack, because (back to the myth), the perception is men are more likely than women to have a heart attack. Many women who suffer a heart attack are told it is probably due to stress or they are having a panic attack. Much more awareness therefore is needed to shift the perception that heart attacks only affect a certain type of person – typically we think of a middle aged man who is overweight, has diabetes and smokes. Heart attacks affect the wider spectrum of the population including many women.

Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) kills more than twice as many women as breast cancer in the UK every year and is the single biggest killer of women worldwide. Despite this, it is still considered a man’s disease. There are more than 800,000 women in the UK living with CHD, which is the main cause of heart attacks. 35,000 women are admitted to hospital following a heart attack each year in the UK.

So, what are the heart attack warning signs and symptoms women need to look out for – heart attack symptoms will of course vary from person to person but the most common signs are:

  • chest pain or discomfort in the chest that suddenly occurs and doesn’t go away. It may feel like pressure, tightness or squeezing
  • the chest pain may spread to the left or right arm or might spread to the neck, jaw, back or stomach
  • you may feel sick, sweaty, light-headed or short of breath

less common symptoms include:

  • a sudden feeling of anxiety that can feel similar to a panic attack
  • excessive coughing or wheezing

If you are in any doubt or think you are having a heart attack, call 999 for an ambulance immediately.

Because women are less likely to seek medical attention and treatment quickly (despite the warning signs) this dramatically reduces the chance of survival by delaying getting help.

Rapid treatment is essential and the aim is to restore blood flow to the affected part of the heart muscle as soon as possible – this helps to limit the amount of damage to the heart.

Reduce Your Risk of a Heart Attack:

A woman’s’ hormones will provide some protection from CHD in the pre-menopause years, however post menopause, the risk rises and continues to rise as you age. It is therefore important as you get older to be aware of the potential risk factors, which are:

high blood pressure                       smoking

being overweight                            high cholesterol

diabetes                                         not doing enough physical activity.

Identifying and managing risk factors early on could help lower your risk of a heart attack in the future.

March 30, 2021

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