Women and Heart Attacks


Cardiovascular disease is number one cause of death in the United States for both women and men. One in every three deaths, or 2,200 a day, are contributed to some form of cardiovascular disease, according to the CDC. Yet, a recent UK study suggests that female heart attack victims are twice as likely to die as their male counterparts. The reasons why are both physiological and social.

Women sometimes delay in seeking treatment, thinking that they can’t possibly be having a heart attack. The myth that women are unlikely to have heart attacks has been fed by the fact that women’s heart attack symptoms are often less defined than men’s. Women may experience symptoms of nausea, fatigue, or back pain and not realize they are having a heart attack. Additionally, as these symptoms are common to many conditions, they can easily pose a diagnostic challenge to physicians.The study found, for example, that women wait longer to call an ambulance after heart attacks than men do, perhaps because they do not understand that they are having or have had a heart attack.

Because heart attacks have a strong male connotation, doctors may also fall into gender roles that could cost women their lives. Women may have been diagnosed later, treated less aggressively with surgery and interventional procedures, and less often been prescribed medication and referred to cardiac rehabilitation programs. This might be due to the fact that heart attack was falsely thought to be a condition unique to men. The study also suggested that women are not treated as effectively by doctors as men are, perhaps also because heart disease and heart attacks are more common in men, leading doctors to think women more rarely suffer them. Researchers have found that women were less likely than men to receive drugs, such as statins, when leaving hospital to prevent a second heart attack.

The study concludes that nine percent of women died as a result of their heart attack, in contrast to the four percent of men who passed away, and suggests that women and their medical staff should be more vigilant about chest pains, and more proactive in the treatment of women suffering heart attacks. We have a ways to go in better acknowledging the severity between women and heart attacks.

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