Women fatally unaware of heart attack symptoms

woman dixie thinking

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters

“Women spend more time thinking about their weight than they do about their hearts.”

Honey, if you experience a sudden upset stomach, crushing fatigue and shortness of breath, put down your phone. You could be having a heart attack.

Barely one third of Canadian women are aware that pain in the chest, arm, neck, jaw or back are not always the most common symptoms for a woman suffering a heart attack – the #1 killer of women in Canada.

In fact, 43% of women report unusual fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting during a cardiac event – but NOT chest pain.(1)

A 2008 Canadian study of women over 40 called the LIPSTICK Survey reported that women spend more time thinking about their weight than they do about their hearts. Only 10% of women surveyed knew their personal LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol levels, versus the 64% of women who know how much they weighed in high school

This is not good. Heart disease kills more women than men each year in Canada.  It kills six times more women than breast cancer does – in fact, heart disease kills more women than all types of cancer combined. And women typically wait too long before seeking help during heart attack symptoms.

In fact, only one-in-ten women surveyed knew their personal LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels, versus the more than six-in-ten women (64 per cent) who know how much they weighed in high school.
LIPSTICK further revealed that four-in-ten women aged 40-plus have not had their cholesterol checked in the past year, despite the risk of elevated cholesterol and heart disease increasing with age.   Moreover, although three-in-ten Canadian women surveyed have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, one-in-six of those do not get their cholesterol levels checked on a yearly basis.

Dr. Nahid Azad of the University of Ottawa and a member of the Federation of Medical Women in Canada who sponsored the LIPSTICK Survey, adds:

“The good news is that it’s never too late to take action.  Women need to work with their physician to identify their personal risks, and steps they can take to reduce their chances of cardiovascular disease through improved diet, lifestyle changes, and medication if necessary.”

Dr. Sofia Shames at Montreal’s McGill University and spokeswoman for the Federation also observed at the time:

“The most troubling thing is that women really are not as informed as we thought they were in terms of knowing their own cardiovascular risk factors, or knowing even which ones are associated with heart disease.

“A lot of times women say, ‘You know what? I didn’t feel well and didn’t realize I was having a heart attack!’ I’ve seen it many times.”

Dr. Gillian Einstein of Women’s College Research Institute in Toronto, adds:

“When it comes to health care for women, you have to start by recognizing they are not men. Biological differences, as well as social roles and practices, affect women’s health and health care needs. And that goes beyond the reproductive differences!”

Thanks to CanWest Media Services
(1) Canto JG, Rogers WJ, Goldberg RJ, et al. Association of Age and Sex With Myocardial Infarction Symptom Presentation and In-Hospital Mortality. JAMA. 2012;307(8):813-822.

See also:

© Carolyn Thomas  www.myheartsisters.org


6 thoughts on “Women fatally unaware of heart attack symptoms

  1. Carolyn,

    I am appalled at the recent article by Gary Schwitzer’s in Forbes and after reading the other comments, and not wanting to repeat the excellent points you already made, I sent him this comment:


    “The reason for using a young attractive woman in the heart attack video is exactly the SAME reason YOU used the title of this post – Disease-mongering du jour: heart disease in young women. Red competing with pink?

    The difference is profound:
    The video’s intent is to create awareness of a very serious and lethal condition in women young and old.

    Your intent is simply to get attention for your own ego as your article does nothing to raise public awareness, only public skepticism.

    I believe you owe the millions of heart attack survivors and the families, friends and loved ones of those who have not survived an apology.”


    Thank you for alerting me.

    I hope others take the time to comment on Gary Schwitzer’s article in Forbes magazine.

    (Ed note: see more about the American Heart Association’s film by Elizabeth Banks that Gary Schwitzer calls “disease-mongering” A Heart Film to Watch Before ‘Pink Season’ Gets Here.)


  2. “Only 10% of women surveyed knew their personal LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol levels, versus the 64% of women who know how much they weighed in high school.”

    That statement is appalling yet oddly, not that surprising to me. Before my own heart attack, I was okay with not knowing my medical test results as long as my doctor told me ‘don’t worry be happy’. A very child-like reaction – I didn’t feel I had to be responsible for knowing about my own health, that it was my doctor’s job to worry about that.

    Those days are long gone now and I urge everybody I know to ask questions and not leave their doctor’s office until they have every answer.

    Love your site, Carolyn – it’s been helpful not only to me but when I forward links of specific articles to my family/friends, or post links on Facebook, it helps others understand better, too.


  3. This is a great information to those ladies who actually want to be healthy heart. They should keep attention on that or else it would turn to big issue.


  4. There are some women who used to think more about how they lose weight than taking care of their heart. They think that if they are physically fit, they have normal heart function but unfortunately they’re wrong. So I say thanks for this article – for women to be aware that they should take care of their heart.


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