Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Women and heart attacks

by Chloe Angyal

A few days ago, The New York Times reported on findings by a Tufts study, that women experiencing heart attacks wait longer for treatment than men do:

Ambulances arrived just as quickly for women as for men, the researchers found. Patients of both sexes spent an average of 34 minutes in the care of emergencymedical workers, including about 19.9 minutes of care on the scene and 10.3 minutes spent traveling to the hospital.

But 647 patients, about 11 percent, were delayed, spending 45 minutes or longer in the care of emergency workers.

Women were 52 percent more likely than men to be among the delayed, said Thomas W. Concannon, an assistant professor of medicine at Tufts University who was lead author of the study, published this month in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

It is not clear what caused the waits, he said, but other studies have suggested that heart problems in women are not recognized as readily by medical personnel.

My mother had a heart attack at 51, and after she recovered and got healthy, she became a Heart Health Ambassador for Australia's National Heart Foundation. One of the most important things we learned from her experience, apart from the need to cherish every day and watch your cholesterol, is that, because heart attacks are thought of as a predominately male affliction, a woman who comes to the emergency room complaining of heart attack symptoms is assumed to be having a panic attack, which, unlike a heart attack, is not deadly. It's a dangerous misperception because, according to the American Heart Association, nearly twice as many women in the United States die of heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases as from all forms of cancer, including breast cancer. And it's also dangerous because the first hour of symptoms is when heart attack patients are most likely to die. So, being delayed 45 minutes longer is a big deal, and may even be a dealbreaker.

This is really crucial knowledge for women over 40, and women who have a family history of heart attack (in men or in women). Learn the causes, learn the signs, and learn how important it is to get medical attention in the first hour. And most importantly, take care of yourselves and each other.

You can listen to my mom's story here (on a podcast, because she's that cool).

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