What does a girl have to do to get her heart attack noticed?

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters   

Last month, some famous cardiologists gathered at a New York City heart health media event and wryly suggested it might be helpful if only women in mid-heart attack could clutch their chests, turn pale, and fall to the ground in dramatic defeat, in typical Hollywood Heart Attack fashion.

I wish I’d been there in person.

Kentucky cardiologist Dr. Melissa Walton-Shirley was, though, and wrote about this event, In The Prime Of Her Life.

She described the prestigious health care providers who gathered to participate in the event’s panel discussions as the “rock stars of cardiology”, each one specializing in the treatment of female cardiovascular diseases.  

Dr. Sharonne Hayes, founder of the Women’s Heart Clinic at the world-famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, amassed this impressive panel of heart experts and media specialists, who tackled topics like “What Ails the Young Woman’s Heart?” and What Troubles the 50+ Woman’s Heart?”

Here’s how Dr. Melissa recalled some of the key messages from this event:

  • More women die from cardiovascular ailments than from breast cancer.
  • Women conscientiously schedule mammograms, but skip blood-pressure checks and lipid (cholesterol) profiles.
  • Women are largely unaware of their cardiovascular mortality risks, evidenced by the fact that we push our husbands to keep their doctors’ appointments, but we cancel ours to pick up the children or check on our aging parents.
  • When we finally do make our appointments, we are sometimes ignored. Cardiologists and primary care physicians are often unaware that women have acute coronary syndromes without tight coronary artery blockages.   See also: Cardiac gender bias: we need less TALK and more WALK
  • Even when we are hospitalized for coronary symptoms with bumped-up troponins (a term signifying the abnormal detection of cardiac enzymes in our bloodstream), we will often have “clean caths” (no obvious coronary artery blockages seen during cardiac catheterization angiography) and are still signed out as non-coronary chest pain.

The panel also observed that not only do some doctors not take women’s often-vague heart attack symptoms seriously, but we don’t take our symptoms seriously either.

Dr. Hayes added:

“Instead, we finish preparing dinner!”

A special panel of women who are a part of WomenHeart National Coalition For Women With Heart Disease made this point very well at this Heart Month event, says Dr. Melissa.  These women are cardiac survivors who had, as I did in 2008, ‘graduated’ from the four-day WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium held every year at Mayo Clinic.

According to Dr. Melissa:

“Women have a heart pump and blood vessels similar in appearance to men, but the biochemistry is nothing alike, nor should our approach be to our disease process.

“Heart ailments are more deadly for us, but we fail to see the long-term ramifications of ignoring heart disease, making the pickup for the kids a priority today, but missing an opportunity to be there for them for a lifetime of tomorrows.”

Now pour yourself a cup of coffee and watch this 20-minute video of cardiologists Dr. Walton-Shirley, Dr. Sharonne Hayes and Dr. Patrice Nickens in an interview done at this New York event.


NOTE FROM CAROLYN:   I wrote more about this cardiology gender gap in my book, “A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017). You can ask for it at your local library or favourite bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon – or order it directly from Johns Hopkins University Press (and use their code HTWN to save 20% off the list price).



6 thoughts on “What does a girl have to do to get her heart attack noticed?

  1. I wish I had Carolyn as my cardiologist and not these University of Outhouse Marijuana Cardiac University idiots here where I live that still claim that I am fine even after I had ALL signs of a female heart attack, but I was told I had a “black spot ” on the bottom chamber of my heart and they still call it an “anomaly”! I have not decided to get a second opinion out of state.

    I had to go out of state to get a proper diagnosis of what I knew was something wrong with my (quote) “female plumbing” and it ended up being stage 1 Uterine cancer.


    1. I have decided to get a 2nd opinion and go to a female cardiologist in Chattanooga so that I can hope to prove these male cardiologist wrong and that It Is Not In My Head! I don’t even know how to fake one and why would I do such a thing ! I am a compassionate nursing student!


      1. Can you (myself) do just as much damage if not more when being prone to v-tach but not have a diagnosis of a heart attack. I have had up to 8 within the past year. My last hospitalization was a HR of 136 when I called 911, 167 when paramedics got here and 250 when in the ER. I had a seizure while in the ambulance because of so much chest, neck, jaw, shoulder blade pain along with uncontrolled breathing. I keep a medical journal in order for it to speak for me if I am not ale to explain it myself to my Dr., EMT, or ER physician.This “IS NOT” indigestion! I very well know the difference between the two. With indigestion, you do not have a stiff neck & throat, pain in jaw, feeling of passing out, nor do you have pain between the shoulder blades. With a cardiac event….YOU DO!


  2. This video discussion was well worth watching, thanks very much, I only wish that ALL women heart patients had access to female cardiologists who are this aware and skilled at women’s heart issues. It was so inspiring to watch. THX Carolyn for this. I’m a new subscriber as of yesterday and so appreciate what you’re trying to do here for all of us.


  3. “….we push our husbands to keep their doctors’ appointments but we cancel ours to pick up the children or check on our parents…”

    Isn’t that the truth? This video is a MUST-SEE for all women. Thanks for this.


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