Houston-Area Women’s Survey Shows Widespread Confusion About Heart Attack Warning Signs and Unknown Elevated Risk of Fatality for Females
Houston (February 5, 2019) – It may come as a surprise that the leading cause of death for women is heart disease. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease accounts for 1 in 4 female deaths.
A survey on heart health was evenly distributed across the Greater Houston area to 200 women. Respondents anonymously answered questions regarding their knowledge of heart attacks, including risk factors, warning signs, and prevention. Kelsey-Seybold Clinic physicians reviewed the results and found that while heart disease is the leading cause of death for women, many are unclear about the warning signs of a heart attack.
"This survey was interesting because there is already confusion about how women experience heart attack symptoms differently than men. When questioned about symptoms of heart attack, female respondents did not correctly identify the warning signs of a heart attack," said Angela Ferguson, D.O., F.A.A.C., cardiologist at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic – The Woodlands and Spring Medical and Diagnostic Center. "Recognizing the warning signs of a heart attack early may help healthcare workers order diagnostics and lab work more efficiently, and treat patients having a heart attack more quickly."
Chest pain, shortness of breath, and unusual fatigue are commonly seen in patients experiencing a heart attack. More obscure symptoms include generalized discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or upper stomach, as well as nausea, lightheadedness, and cold sweats. Symptoms preceding a heart attack can last from a few days to a few weeks and, in many cases, women experiencing these symptoms may attribute them to less life-threatening conditions. A delay in receiving care may increase the chances of irreparable damage to the heart or a fatality.
A large percentage of survey respondents (45 percent) were unaware that in cases where a woman is hospitalized for a heart attack, the incidence of fatality is higher than for males. A study published by the American College of Cardiology found "Women suffering a heart attack wait much longer than men to call emergency medical services … putting them at greater risk for adverse outcomes." Women are twice as likely as men to die from a heart attack after being hospitalized.
"Heart attacks are often viewed as a man's disease, and while it is a leading cause of death for men, women actually have a higher risk of death from a heart attack," said Rohan Wagle, M.D., F.A.C.C., cardiologist at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic – Tanglewood and Katy Clinics. "The women I know do such an incredible job of taking care of everyone else in their lives that they sometimes forget to prioritize their own health. Let's work together to reduce the risk of heart attack – and everyone should know to call 9-1-1 if you experience symptoms."
Common risk factors for cardiovascular disease include obesity, inactivity, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Additional risk factors that may affect women more than men include mental stress and depression, pregnancy complications, chemotherapy and radiation therapy for treatment of breast cancer, and hormonal changes after menopause.
"The survey showed that of the 200 women, 86 percent were aware there are many ways that we can individually impact our own risk factors for heart attacks," said Rahul Trikha, M.D., cardiologist at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic – The Woodlands and Spring Medical and Diagnostic Center. "But some of these risk factors are out of our control – that's why an annual visit with a primary care physician is especially important. Your doctor can help identify the risk factors you didn't even know you had and work with you to help prevent a heart attack from happening."
If you or someone you know may be having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately for help. If available, the person experiencing symptoms should chew and swallow an aspirin, unless they are allergic or have been instructed by a doctor never to take aspirin. If the person with symptoms becomes unconscious, tell the dispatcher and follow his or her instructions.