In case I haven’t driven it home enough this month, I want to share some more important information that may save your life, or the life of someone you love.
Some not so well known facts
heart disease kills more people than all cancers combined
more women than men die from a first heart attack
we are less likely to get the treatment we need for heart disease
women of color are at higher risk of developing heart disease and receiving inadequate treatment than Caucasian women
we may have different symptoms than men and may not recognize a cardiac problem when it occurs
Women are not just men with lady parts
Women, as we age, are as likely as men to develop heart disease. Unfortunately, most of the medical information is based on studies done primarily on men. Treatment options are based on how men respond to them but women often do not have the same response to treatment as men . We are not just smaller versions of men. We are very different physiologically and therefore may find that treatment options don’t work for us the same way.
Women are also more likely to die from their first heart attack than men are. This is for a few reasons. First, the symptoms may be vague or may resemble another condition like indigestion, stress, fatigue, to name a few. Studies show that many women who suffer heart attacks had no prior symptoms.
Minority women are at even higher risk than Caucasian women, also for a few reasons. If they live in an economically challenged environment, they may have little to no access to quality healthcare. If they are the sole caregiver to their family, they may ignore symptoms until it’s too late. Their risk factors are often higher also due to cultural norms such as traditional food choices and larger body types.
Women often do not have the classic heart attack symptoms
Because we don’t know any better, we often expect the following symptoms to be present during a cardiac event.
pain in the chest, jaw and/or arm
shortness of breath
loss of consciousness
A cardiac event is often mischaracterized as something else by not only the patient but also the medical community. If a young, fit woman shows up in the ER presenting with symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, vague pressure or pain in the upper body, she will very possibly be sent home with a prescription for anti-anxiety meds or told to minimize the stress in her life.
Some of the symptoms women should know
extreme, unexplained fatigue
unexplained nausea or vomiting
pain between the shoulder blades
burning or tingling across the upper chest
pain or heaviness in either arm
jaw pain or pressure
dizziness or disorientation
One thing is for certain. We must all be able to advocate for ourselves or have someone advocate on our behalf. If you feel like your doctor isn’t listening to you, get another doctor. The medical community has been classically trained on the male model of the cardiac patient. We need to participate in the conversation and we also need to be included in the clinical trials. They don’t even use female mice when they perform the testing because the males are less expensive and they use the females for reproduction.
The bottom line is…you know your body and if you think something is wrong, it probably is. Don’t allow yourself to be dismissed. You deserve to be heard and taken seriously. Your life may depend on it.
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