It’s been a little more than a decade since the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute took on the nation’s number one killer of women—heart disease! Today, "Go Red for Women" and National Wear Red Day, Feb. 7, call attention to the fact that heart disease claims the lives of nearly 500,000 American women each year.
In the decade since this initiative began, the American Heart Association says 21 percent fewer women are dying from heart disease; 21 percent more women are aware that it’s their number one health threat; and research has advanced to include more gender-specific results. But we still have a lot of work to do.
Specifically, it’s important for every woman to realize that heart disease is a potential threat to her health. Probably the most deadly threat is a heart attack. Though we’ve made a lot of progress increasing awareness, many women still think of a heart attack as something that happens to someone else, usually a man.
The facts are hard to dispute though. Women are 52 percent more likely than men to have at least a 15-minute delay in treatment for heart-attack related 911 calls, according to research published in Circulation. About 435,000 American women have heart attacks each year. Forty-two percent of women who have them die within one year, while only 24 percent of men die within one year of suffering a heart attack, according to the Women’s Heart Foundation.
A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked by a buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries. Many women don’t experience the classic symptoms of a heart attack—uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.
Instead, many women have symptoms that could be confused with other health problems, such as the flu or stress. Common symptoms to watch for include:
• Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort
• Back Pain
• Pain in one or both arms
• Jaw Pain
In the event of a heart attack, time is of the essence. Dismissing or discounting these symptoms can delay critical life-saving care. But knowing the symptoms and getting to a hospital immediately can mean the difference between life and death. If you, or someone you know, experiences any of these symptoms, don’t wait to call for help.
• Dial 9-1-1 immediately.
• Don’t drive yourself or have someone drive you to the hospital unless you have no other choice.
• Try to stay as calm as possible and take deep, slow breaths while you wait for emergency responders.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard my patients, both female and male, say they knew something was wrong, but they weren’t sure what, and they didn’t want to go to the hospital if it was nothing. Many times, it is something though.
Ultimately, trust your intuition. If you don’t feel normal, have any of these symptoms or just sense that "something isn’t right and it might be your heart," get to a hospital. We have amazing technologies and treatments that can save your life. But, we can’t help you if you don’t make it to us.
Dr. O’Keefe is a cardiologist with Saint Luke’s Cardiovascular Consultants, located in Lee’s Summit at 20 N.E. Saint Luke’s Blvd., Suite 110, 816-931-1883.He is also the chief medical officer at CardioTabs. To read Dr. O’Keefe’s newsletter, For the Heart, online visit: http://www.saintlukeshealthsystem.org/saint-lukes-cardiovascular-consultants-newsletter.