Women’s heart attacks may not be detected in time, study says

February 20th, 2009 - 6:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 20 (IANS) Women experiencing cardiac symptoms were much less likely than men to receive prompt medical care.
Women experience different cardiac symptoms than men, especially during an acute attack. Doctors often diagnose a heart attack by evaluating a patient’s symptoms.

Women are more likely to experience nausea, vomiting, upper-back pain, shortness of breath, dizziness and indigestion which are not considered to be the hallmark signs of a heart attack.

If a woman is having cardiac symptoms, “it turns out that (she is) more likely to be delayed from the time of symptom onset, through transport and all the way to definitive care,” explains a study.

The study confirms the notion that heart-related symptoms may not be recognised as easily in women. “Delays could be happening because the patient and the clinician are slower to recognize symptoms as cardiac-related (in women),” according to Concannon Thomas.

He is the study’s lead author and assistant professor of medicine at the Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.

An acute heart attack occurs when a blocked vessel restricts blood flow to an area of the heart muscle. The lack of blood flow means this area of the heart is deprived of oxygen.

The longer a heart attack victim goes without receiving medical treatment, the longer the heart muscle goes without receiving oxygen. This oxygen deprivation causes significant, and sometimes irreversible, damage to the heart muscle.

“Delays of 15 minutes have been shown to contribute to a significantly larger area of damage to heart muscle in patients with heart attack. While our study included patients with any cardiac related symptom, we studied 15 minute delays because of their potential for harm in patients with heart attack,” said Concannon.

“In an emergency situation, symptoms such as shortness of breath and chest tightness are often viewed as psychogenic, rather than of cardiac origin,” said Jennifer H. Mieres, spokesperson for the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Go Red For Women campaign, according to AHA release.

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