First the bad news: If you, as a woman, suffer a particularly serious kind of heart attack, you're twice as likely as a man to die from it. But—and here's the good news—your overall risk of dying from a heart attack in a hospital is about the same as a man's, according to a study of 78,000 people treated for heart attacks published yesterday in the journal Circulation.
Doctors, it seems, have improved their recognition and treatment of heart disease in women. A decade ago, women had a higher overall death rate than men after heart attacks. Trouble is, some disparities still exist, which could explain the higher death rates for the small group of women who have a type of heart attack called ST elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), usually caused by a complete blockage of a coronary artery. (The researchers factored in differences such as age—women heart attack patients are on average a decade older than men—and other existing illnesses.)
The study also found that women are 14 percent less likely to receive aspirin immediately to break up a blood clot; 10 percent less likely to receive beta blockers; 25 percent less likely to receive reperfusion therapy (to restore blood flow); and 13 percent less likely to receive angioplasty within 90 minutes of hospital arrival.
What all this could mean is that while women's heart care has improved enough to lower overall heart attack death rates, doctors are probably still not treating women the same as men. Some may not recognize that women often don't present with typical heart attack symptoms like chest pain. Those who do, as I previously reported, are more likely to be told by their primary-care doctors that their symptoms are signs of stress. Even women themselves may be partly to blame: Researchers have shown many delay getting treatment for heart attacks because they don't know the warning signs.
Here's a list of seven heart attack warning signs every woman should know.
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