Myths endure about women and heart attacks
Heart disease more prevalent among women than men, studies show
Having a heart attack felt nothing like I thought it would. For women especially, the dramatic “Hollywood heart attack” is not what we typically experience.
In fact, more than 40 per cent of women experience no chest pain at all during a cardiac event.
That’s only one of the surprising facts about women and heart attacks.
There’s a widespread view, for example, that most women die from breast cancer. But six times more women die from heart disease than from breast cancer each year. In fact, heart disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined.
Heart disease is also seen as a man’s problem. But since 1984, more women than men have died of heart disease every year.
And it’s not just a disease of older women. Heart disease threatens all women. The rate of sudden cardiac death of women in their 30s and 40s is increasing much faster than in men of the same age, rising 21 per cent in the past decade.
And the myths aren’t just an issue for the public. A 2005 American Heart Association study found only eight per cent of family physicians and 17 per cent of cardiologists knew that heart disease kills more women than men each year.
Women’s and men’s heart disease are different, but as cardiologist Dr. Sharonne Hayes of the Mayo Women’s Heart Clinic explains, “Cardiac research has been almost exclusively focused on men’s cardiovascular disease. Many clinical trials have excluded women entirely.” In Canada, 53 per cent of heart patients are women, but we make up only 25 per cent of cardiac research subjects.
Far too often, women fighting heart disease are not accurately diagnosed and don’t receive the care they need when they need it. The
New England Journal of Medicine
reported that women heart patients under 55 presenting in the emergency department are seven times more likely to be misdiagnosed in midheart attack than men of the same age. A study published last year in the journal showed that
Heart female heart patients were also less likely to receive the cardiac medications that are given to men — including Aspirin.
There is also a myth that if heart disease isn’t in your family, it isn’t your problem.
But many women without any family history have heart disease. High bloodpressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, kidney disease, pre-eclampsia or other pregnancy complications, chronic stress, depression, sleep breathing disorders, poor diet, high sodium intake, smoking, being overweight/obese and physical inactivity are all factors that can increase your risk.
You can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease. And you can learn to identify women’s heart attack symptoms and act immediately when such symptoms strike. For more information, visit the website thehearttruth.ca.