"It is frustrating. Many doctors do not see heart disease as a woman's disease. They don't look for it or treat it aggressively," said Dr. Holly Andersen at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
Yes, it is. For six years I have been educating women about the importance of taking care of their hearts. For six years I have been talking to doctors about the importance of paying attention to the heart health of their female patients. A study released by Duke University indicates there is still much work to be done.
"It is a well documented trend in health care that is not changing," said Dr. Sharonne Hayes at the Mayo Clinic. "Women get less treatment, and they get it later, compared to men who have the same symptoms or conditions." While a man who goes to the Emergency Room usually sees a cardiologist, women are more likely to be seen by an internist or family physician. Women are less likely to receive tests to detect blocked arteries or clot busting drugs when blockages are discovered.
Women are far more likely to die during a first heart attack, but if they do survive they are less likely to get medications to prevent a second heart attack. On the prevention side, only twenty percent of physicians address heart disease in any way with their female patients. The consequences are frightening.
So what can a woman do?
Understand your risk for heart disease and stroke. Your family history, medical risk factors (such as blood pressure and cholesterol) and life style factors such as obesity and smoking all have an impact on your risk for heart disease. Fortunately, many of these risk factors can be reduced or even eliminated with an active lifestyle, pro-active health care and good eating habits. Don’t wait for your doctor to address these issues, ask about your risk and what you can do to reduce it.
Get help if you have symptoms of a heart attack. Women’s symptoms can be subtle and confusing. However, we all know what is normal for our own bodies. If you have an unusual pain anywhere in your body from the top of your head to your hips, you need to seek medical attention right away. Many treatments are only effective if they are administered early in a heart attack. Waiting too long to get help will limit your options for recovery.
Symptoms you should never ignore:
* Unusual pain in your back, abdomen, shoulder, neck, chest or jaw
* Shortness of breath, trouble breathing while sleeping or laying down
* Cold sweat (perhaps accompanied by an uneasy, panicked feeling)
* Racing heart beat or feeling of fluttering or missed beats
* Pressure in chest or lightheadedness
* Unusual and unexplained vomiting
If you experience any of these symptoms call 911 immediately.
Get help if you have symptoms of a stroke. Waiting too long to get help when you are having a stroke can mean the difference between recovering and a lifetime of disability. Stroke symptoms come on suddenly and can cause confusion. Your perception can be altered and make it more difficult to determine if you need help. Use this simple assessment to determine if it is time to call 911:
Can you smile?
Look closely -- if one side of the face is drooping, then it is time to call 911.
Can you say your name?
If the speech is slurred or difficult to understand call 911.
Can you raise your hands over your head?
If only one is up, it is time to call 911.
Be an annoying patient. If you think there is something wrong, don’t be easily talked out of it. Maybe it is “just a panic attack” or indigestion, but you should be given tests to rule out a heart attack and not be patronized or have your concerns dismissed. According to a new study panic attacks are linked to an increased risk of later heart attack and shouldn’t be dismissed either. Here are some tips to get the treatment you deserve:
Say it loud and often: If you think you are having a heart attack or stroke, say it and make sure you are given tests to rule out the possibility before being sent home.
Know where to go: Know which hospitals in your area are stroke centers and which offer the best in heart care. The American Stoke Association provides a listing of stoke centers by state.
Demand a diagnosis and treatment plan before you leave. If you don’t feel like you have been taken seriously ask for another opinion from a different physician or a specialist.
Bottom line: Don’t mess around when it comes to your heart or your brain. If you have symptoms, call 911. Demand to be taken seriously and don’t leave until you are satisfied you have been treated appropriately and heart attack or stroke has been ruled out as a possibility.
Better safe than sorry. Better now than later. Better annoying than dismissed and dead or disabled.
Eliz Greene is a heart attack survivor, author and nationally known speaker on a mission to encourage women to recognize heart disease as their most serious health threat and provide down-to-earth strategies for active and healthy lives. Learn more about Eliz and the Embrace Your Heart Wellness Initiative at www.EmbraceYourHeart.com