Do you think that gender will not make any difference to your chances of survival after a heart attack? Wrong! You probably assume that whether you are a man or a woman, you will get the same preventive and post-cardiac attack treatment. Wrong again, I am afraid.
Two important studies reveal a rather alarming type of sexism in cardiac treatment. It seems that the general impression among the public, and even doctors, is that men are more likely to suffer from a heart attack. This belief is affecting the way women are being treated, and they are also more at risk because certain assumptions are made that not so many women have heart attacks.
Heart disease in men and women
The reality is that heart disease kills men and women in equal numbers. Guess which is the number one killer of women in the USA? You might think breast cancer but no, it is heart disease. It also accounts for about 22% of all women’s deaths, according to CDC figures for 2013.
In the UK, it is estimated that more women die from heart failure than men—82,000 women versus 79,000 men, annually.
But women do not get the same heart health screening procedures. If you talk to Martha Gulati, a cardiologist at Ohio State University, she will tell you that in spite of the statistics, men are treated more thoroughly than women. Her book, Saving Women’s Hearts: How You Can Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease With Natural and Conventional Strategies has highlighted this emergency.
Does this actually affect the way women are warned about the risks? The answer is an alarming yes. The first study revealed that as many as 11% of women are less likely to be told that they are at risk when they are diagnosed with diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure, becoming overweight, and if they smoke.
The study revealed the medical records of over 3,500 patients.
About 66% of the patients investigated were women. Both the men and women were all at risk of heart disease from obesity, hypertension, and high cholesterol.
The alarming results of the study showed that women were less likely to get clinical advice about their heart attack risks.
“Young women cannot afford to be continually less informed than men about their risk for heart disease.”
—Erica Leifheit-Limson, researcher in the study.
Even more alarming is the fact that a woman arriving for emergency treatment for a heart attack is less likely to get the crucial life-saving procedures than a man would. As a result, their chances of death are higher. In fact, 4.5% of women were more likely to die from a heart attack in hospital, compared to about 3% for men.
Why this is an emergency for women
This is not just a gender gap issue—it is an emergency. One reason is that lifestyle modification advice may be directed more towards men because of the erroneous beliefs which persist. There are also slightly different symptoms in women such as nausea, vomiting, and sweating as mentioned on the WebMD site.
Another problem is that life-saving procedures such as inserting stents and unblocking arteries are more aggressively pursued for men.
It is also shocking to know that many doctors seem to regard women as being less likely to have a heart attack, in spite of the figures.
Take the case of Rachel Boothroyd (37) who was working as a lawyer in London. Both her doctor and cardiologist dismissed her alarming neck, chest and arm pains as being not as fit as she used to be! She continued to go swimming in spite of severe pain but she could have had a fatal heart attack. Fortunately, her condition was finally diagnosed but she risked her life.
“Because I was a woman, no one thought of it. They kept saying, ‘I’m sure there won’t be anything in it.’”
How women can protect themselves
Keeping an eye on your health will be crucial in determining your risks. Monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, diet, and make lifestyle changes if necessary. The British Heart Foundation has set up the Women’s Room to help women do just that. This is the best protection and there will be no need to rely on out of date myths about more men having heart attacks. Women have hearts too!
Featured photo credit: Strawberry heart, a heart within a heart/ *sax via flickr.com