LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - In a first of its kind report, the American Heart Association finds heart attacks in women are under treated and under diagnosed.
It's the number one killer of women and now there are new warning signs you should be on the look out for. It starts with a difference in symptoms.
Men tend to have severe chest pain before a heart attack. Signs in women are often more subtle: like shortness of breath, nausea, and jaw pain, according to the report. There can often be a problem with perception among both patients and doctors.
"I had a challenging time getting even the hospital at the time to accept me," said Katherine Wilemon, a mother of two who suffered her first heart attack at age 39. "I didn't look like someone who should be suffering from an event."
With new information, cardiologist Dr. Jennifer Mieres hopes treatment of women will improve.
"This statement gives us a road map as clinicians to look at some of the gender differences with heart disease," said Dr. Mieres.
Risk factors also differ between men and women and even between different minority groups in women. Researchers says women with high blood pressure have a stronger risk of a heart attack than men. A young woman with diabetes has four-to-five times greater risk of heart disease compared to young men. For minority women the risks are even greater.
"In those communities, African American and Hispanic, high incidents of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, inactivity, and exposure to chronic stress and depression" play a factor, said Dr. Mieres.
Plaque, in certain women, doesn't bulge as much into the artery. This means it is less conspicuous and harder for doctors to diagnose in routine tests. Simple lifestyle changes can make a huge difference, though. An estimated 80 percent of heart disease and stroke are preventable.
Additional warning signs are reported by the American Heart Association:
- During a heart attack, women and men often feel chest pain, but women may experience uncommon symptoms such as back, arm, neck or jaw pain, or have nausea, weakness and a sense of dread.
- Women wait longer to get treated - the median delay is about 54 hours in women and 16 hours in men.
- Both sexes share heart attack risk factors, but Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure are more potent for women.
- Women who survive a heart attack are more likely to have complications in the hospital such as shock, bleeding or heart failure. Some physicians do not follow medical guidelines and some women do not take prescribed medications or participate in cardiac rehabilitation, which can result in long-term complications.
- Depressed women have a 50 percent higher risk of heart attack. It’s unclear how depression raises risk, but depressed patients are more likely to not follow a healthy lifestyle.