A new European study has found that women wait longer than men to get help for a heart attack, with the researchers now urging women who experience symptoms — which may differ somewhat from those seen in men — to seek medical attention immediately.
Carried out by researchers at Triemli Hospital, Zurich, Switzerland, the new study looked at a total of 4,360 patients including 967 women and 3,393 men with acute ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) who were treated at the hospital over a period of 16 years.
The findings, published in the European Heart Journal: Acute Cardiovascular Care, a publication of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), showed that women experiencing heart attack symptoms wait around 37 minutes longer than men before contacting medical services.
“Women having a heart attack seem to be less likely than men to attribute their symptoms to a condition that requires urgent treatment,” said study author Dr. Matthias Meyer, who added that women may wait longer due to the common myth that heart attacks usually occur in men, and because experiencing pain in the chest and left arm are the best-known symptoms.
“Women and men have a similar amount of pain during a heart attack, but the location may be different,” explained Dr. Meyer. “People with pain in the chest and left arm are more likely to think it’s a heart attack, and these are usual symptoms for men. Women often have back, shoulder, or stomach pain.”
Despite the misconception that more men experience heart attacks, they are just as common in women, and ischemic heart disease is the leading cause of death in both males and females.
On average, women tend to be around 8 to 10 years older than men when they have a heart attack and they tend to experience different symptoms, but both men and women benefit equally from fast treatment.
In heart attacks caused by acute blockage of an artery supplying blood to the heart, restoring blood flow quickly can help salvage more heart muscle, result in less dead tissue, less subsequent heart failure and a lower risk of death.
“Every minute counts when you have a heart attack,” said Dr. Meyer. “Look out for moderate to severe discomfort including pain in the chest, throat, neck, back, stomach or shoulders that lasts for more than 15 minutes. It is often accompanied by nausea, cold sweat, weakness, shortness of breath, or fear.” KM