Yesterday the boys and I went to a first aid session arranged by the home ed forum I’m a member of. First we learned what to do if someone is choking and then we watched a short video about heart attacks. The video featured a woman who suddenly clutched her chest and staggered around, saying it was probably indigestion, you know, the usual thing we see on TV and in film when someone’s having a heart attack.
But around about this time last year, I heard this reported on the radio:
Fewer women than men suffering from a heart attack appear to experience chest pain symptoms, according to a study of more than one million people in the US.
Overall men have significantly more heart attacks, but under the age of 55 women are more likely to die from one.
Without displaying the classic chest pain symptoms of a heart attack, researchers say some women may not be getting the right kind of treatment.
Dr Kevin F Fox, a consultant cardiologist at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and speaking for the Royal College of Physicians, said that overall the number of heart attacks and associated deaths were falling, but that when young women had heart attacks the outcomes were not good.
“The paper has shown that women, and in particular younger women, under 55 years of age, often do not have the typical presenting symptom of chest pain compared to men when they have a heart attack.
“Although heart attack survival is improving overall, doctors, health care professionals and the public need to be aware and vigilant that women can have a heart attack without the typical chest pain that we all think of as the main symptom.”
It rang a bell with me – I was sure I’d heard that before – so when I got home, I looked it up.
It was in O magazine. In 2006. Heart Health: Men vs Women
Men: Often the first sign of heart disease is a heart attack itself, a feeling like the chest is being run over by a Mack truck.
Women: Women’s first warning signs are much more subtle and often hard to pinpoint. They may feel fatigue when doing something that they used to do easily, such as play tennis, run to catch a train, change sheets, or walk up two flights of stairs. Sometimes heart disease registers in women as a feeling of mild indigestion. Often there’s no chest pain whatsoever.
So why, seven years later, are we still saying there is? Back to the BBC report:
The US researchers describe the results of their work as “provocative” and urge further study, but say that for the moment there should be no change in the public health message that chest pain and discomfort could be symptoms of a heart attack.
“For the moment.” I’ve been aware of it for seven years, which suggests the health industry has known about it for a lot longer. How much longer does it need to be researched? How many women have died in the meantime? How many women need to die before they change the message?
Women are more likely than men to have atypical symptoms such as:
Back, neck, shoulder, jaw, lower chest, or upper belly pain or discomfort
Nausea or vomiting
Shortness of breath
Dizziness or lightheadedness
(I actually wrote about this on Facebook when I heard it on the BBC last year, but I thought I’d put it here now since another year has gone by with, apparently, no change.)