Millions of women are still in the dark about the signs of a heart attack

Research of 2,000 women by vitamin and supplement brand Healthspan found just 87 per cent of women would associate chest pains or discomfort with having a heart attack, while only 57 per cent recognise profuse and unexplained sweating as a possible symptom

Others were unaware back pain (80%), feeling sick (64%) or feeling light-headed (59%) could also be a signal of a heart attack.

Latest figures show that twice as many women die of coronary heart disease each year than breast cancer in the UK. Yet, awareness among women is low, which often means they delay seeking urgent medical help if they experience the symptoms of a heart attack.

Dr Sarah Brewer, Medical Director at Healthspan, which commissioned the research, said: “Many are aware that heart attacks are something men need to be concerned about, but there is a huge misconception among women that they aren’t at risk.

Not only is this wrong, but it could be the difference between life and death for some if they don’t take symptoms or the risk of a heart attack seriously.”

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) announced that they will be launching a campaign in September called ‘Bias and Biology’ which will be working to banish unnecessary gender bias in the awareness, diagnosis and treatment of heart disease.

BHF research has also shown unnecessary gender inequalities in diagnosis, treatment and care. A recent study led by Professor Chris Gale shows that women who suffer a heart attack are 50% more likely than men to be given a wrong initial diagnosis. Further research has estimated that over ten years, more than 8,000 women in England and Wales could have been saved if they received equal heart attack care to men.

Dr Ameet Bakhai, a Consultant  Cardiologist at The Spire Bushey Hospital  says “The risk of women having a heart attack increases for women once they have gone through the menopause due in part to a reduction in oestrogen and more than one in 10 in the survey didn’t realise this plus, a common misconception is that by being on HRT, women are protected from heart disease and unfortunately that’s not a straight forward assumption either. The research around this has shown some benefits and some risks, unfortunately.

Women are also not aware that they have a higher chance of suffering from a heart attack if their male partner has had a heart attack given that husbands and wives often share the same behavioural risk factors and environmental factors such as smoking or sedentary lifestyle.” Additionally, the stress of looking after a husband dying or surviving of a heart attack affects the wife caregiver negatively and increases their own risk of health issues, worsened by anxiety and depression.”

There are many risk factors linked to cardiovascular disease and one in five of those surveyed said they have a family history of cardiovascular disease but 28 per cent said they do little or no exercise to improve their cardio health.

Almost one in five of the women polled have high blood pressure while others have high cholesterol levels (12%), smoke (16%) or are overweight (30%). But worryingly, 58 per cent of women have no idea what their blood pressure is, while 77 per cent don’t keep tabs on their cholesterol levels.

It also emerged 33 per cent of women have suffered from chest pains, but only around half of them got it checked out by a GP. Of those who didn’t seek medical advice, 58 per cent felt it wasn’t anything serious while 24 per cent didn’t want to waste their doctor’s time.

Others said they were too busy (10%), didn’t believe women needed to worry about chest pains (8%) or were too worried about what they might say (13%). But more than one in twenty have been warned they are at risk of a heart attack by a medical expert.

Women don’t automatically experience the crippling chest pain and are as likely to suffer from pain in the arm; shortness of breath and feel sick, sweaty and dizzy. Others report feeling extreme tiredness and sudden panic and confusion. In short, the symptoms can sometimes be subtle and difficult to pinpoint. “

Dr Ameet Bakhai, “Regular check-ups and screening is vital and the Healthspan survey showed that 69% of people who took the survey were already on a statin to lower their cholesterol. Many people self-medicate due to the side effects of statins which isn’t always without risk but there are solutions that research has shown can counteract the muscular aches and fatigue that some patients experience. For example, for some patients, I recommend Co-enzyme Q10 supplements such as Ubiquinol (the body ready form of Coenzyme Q10). A summary of a careful review of the research showed that this form of supplementation may be a complementary approach to manage statin‐induced myopathy or muscle aches.”

Changing jobs or reducing stress, cutting back on cigarettes and alcohol and taking supplements are also among the ways women try to improve their lifestyle to minimise the risk of heart problems.

More than a third of those say the health issue has made them feel older than their years, while more than a quarter feel more anxious than they did before.

One in four admitted it made them think more deeply about their mortality, while 15 per cent even felt depressed following their heart attack. Others admitted it has made them reassess what is important in their lives (23%), affected their confidence at work (21%) or even made them feel like a different person (26%).

The study, carried out via OnePoll, also found three in 100 of those polled have suffered from a heart attack.

To find out more about the symptoms of heart attacks in women visits BHF: https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/conditions/heart-attack/women-and-heart-attacks

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