Your chest tightens, you feel a shooting pain in your arm and you’re short of breath. These are the tell-tale signs of a heart attack in men, but experts are now warning that women encounter much more subtle symptoms.
Turns out women feel nausea, vomiting, back or jaw pain when they’re dealing with a heart attack. In a new position statement, the American Heart Association says women need to pay attention to their distinct signs.
“Despite stunning improvements in cardiovascular deaths over the last decade, women still fare worse than men and heart disease in women remains underdiagnosed, and undertreated,” Dr. Laxmi Mehta, a cardiovascular health expert at Ohio State University, said in an AHA statement.
“Women should not be afraid to ask questions – we advise all women to have more open and candid discussions with their doctor about both medication and interventional treatments to prevent and treat heart attack,” Mehta said.
There are a handful of disparities the organization is hoping women better understand.
While heart attacks are typically triggered because of blockages in the arteries, the blockages differ between the sexes.
Women, for example, have less severe blood clots that don’t require stents but it’s damage to the major arteries that are the concern.
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Because their blood vessels tend to be smaller, women face greater complications from trying to restore blood flow, especially if they’re older.
High blood pressure is tied to heart attacks in women more than men and if a young woman has diabetes, her risk for heart disease is at least four times higher compared to their male counterparts.
The statement follows Canadian research that suggests male heart attack patients receive faster care than women when it comes to access to electrocardiograms or medication to unblock clogged arteries.
In that case, Quebec researchers warned that it was gender differences at play.
“Men and women need to be assertive when expressing their needs, and they need to be precise and concise when reporting their symptoms,” McGill’s Dr. Roxanne Pelletier, who led the study, told Global News.
“It is possible that patients with more typically female characteristics, such as being tender or shy, give the appearance that they are too fragile or weak to support invasive procedures,” Pelletier said.
Read the full position statement here.