Would you know if you were having a heart attack? According to a study by health insights website Treato, many women fail to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack or other forms of heart disease.
Until fairly recently, heart disease was an under-recognized issue within the realm of women’s health. Generally speaking, more attention is paid to diseases that affect women disproportionately, like breast cancer. According to the CDC and Breastcancer.org, however, heart disease kills nearly seven times as many women each year as breast cancer. Moreover, heart disease has killed more women than men in the United States every year since 1984.
That heart disease is often portrayed as a “man’s disease” is perhaps one reason why women don’t always realize when they’re in the midst of a medical emergency. In the health forums Treato analyzed, women often mentioned being completely unaware that they were having a heart attack.
To begin with, the symptoms they experienced didn’t necessarily scream “heart attack!” While chest pain is a common symptom for both men and women, many women said they experienced dizziness, sensations similar to heartburn or indigestion, and fatigue. Because these symptoms were easy to explain away (“Oh, I’m just feeling under the weather.”), women sometimes waited several days before seeking medical treatment. This aligns with a statistic saying that, on average, women wait 38 hours longer than men to get treatment for heart attack symptoms.
Women also felt that their health profiles didn’t match that of the stereotypical heart attack victim. If they were in the 30s, 40s or early 50s, they assumed they were “too young” to have a heart attack. If they weren’t overweight and didn’t have high cholesterol, they figured they were just coming down with something.
The fact of the matter is that heart disease does not discriminate. It’s the leading cause of death for white women and African American women alike (for other groups it’s roughly a tie between heart disease and cancer). More importantly, as described above, the symptoms are not always obvious.
As a result, when it comes to heart disease, women have a told a twofold responsibility: First, they should educate themselves about common risk factors and symptoms and get screened for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and other conditions that are linked to heart disease. Second, women should make sure they practice healthy lifestyle habits. Eating healthy, exercising regularly and only drinking in moderation are all easy ways to reduce one’s risk of heart disease. Don’t become a statistic.