Myths en­dure about women and heart at­tacks

Heart disease more preva­lent among women than men, stud­ies show

Times Colonist - - Comment - CAROLYN THOMAS Carolyn Thomas is a heart at­tack sur­vivor and a 2008 grad­u­ate of the WomenHeart Science and Lead­er­ship Sym­po­sium at Mayo Clinic. Her Heart Month pre­sen­ta­tion Car­diac Café will be held at the Univer­sity of Vic­to­ria on Feb. 12 from 10 a.m. t

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.

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