As you know, I rarely publish guest posts here on Heart Sisters (given that I have a small avalanche of 232 half-done draft articles piling up alarmingly) but I wanted to share this post with you. It’s from the irreverent Laura Haywood-Cory of North Carolina, one of my sister heart attack survivors and yet another graduate of Mayo Clinic’s WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium for Women With Heart Disease in Rochester, Minnesota (and more recently, of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Summit there, too!)
Her own dramatic heart story is that of a deadly and rare condition usually seen in young, healthy women with few if any known cardiac risk factors: Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection or SCAD. I’m happy to say she has been making a heroic effort to beat this sucker into the ground – just one year after surviving her heart attack, Laura completed the Chapel Hill Ramblin’ Rose Triathlon. She now writes about SCAD, women’s heart health, and life in general on her blog – from which I have lifted this little gem, with her permission. Laura writes:
“At almost every public event where I’m working in my capacity as a WomenHeart Champion with the National Coalition of Women With Heart Disease, someone with XY chromosomes will come up to me and say some variation on:
“Where’s the men’s group?”
Then they get a smug look on their faces as if they’ve just scored a major “Gotcha!” and they scuttle away, oh-so-pleased with themselves for their clever little bons mots.
“Oh, honey!” I want to say to them: “It’s ALWAYS about the men.”
“Almost 75% of the research on heart disease is done on men; women comprise only 27% of heart disease research subjects in North America.
“91% of family doctors are unaware that heart disease kills more WOMEN than men each year – medical professionals whose job it is to know these things DON’T KNOW.
“Women who present with the exact same symptoms as men are often told that it’s our gall bladder, it’s anxiety, it’s stress, it’s acid reflux – anything but what it actually is: our hearts.
“A Cardiovascular Research Foundation study* was done a few years ago at Cornell University where med students were given imaginary case histories for two patients:
- a 48-year-old male
- a 58-year-old female
“Aside from the age, everything else was identical. The two patients had all the risk factors for a heart attack, including the stress of having just been turned down for a job promotion.
“The majority of the students referred the male patient to a cardiologist; the majority referred the female to a psychologist.
“Read that again: the man gets sent to a cardiologist. The little woman gets told that it’s all in her head.
“Women with heart attack symptoms are less likely than men to receive life-saving clot-busting drugs, less likely to even receive simple treatments like an aspirin or a nitro patch.
“Women survivors are less likely to be referred for cardiac rehab.
“Women have a 28% increased risk of dying compared to men within the first year after a heart attack (perhaps because of the fact that we’re less likely to get adequate treatment, as noted).
“It’s not “us versus them” in that we women heart patients and advocates are taking something away from male heart patients. What we’re striving for is EQUAL access to correct diagnoses and treatment.
“In order to do that, we have to address the current inequalities – you can’t change the fact that because you’re male, you’re automatically going to be treated differently if you complain of chest pain than a woman is going to be.
“In general, men don’t have to fight to be believed if they show up in a doctor’s office and say that they think they’re having a heart attack.
“We do. We have to. Every single day.
“That’s part of WomenHeart’s mission – to educate women (and men) about heart disease, our #1 killer, to educate the medical community, and to advocate for equal access and treatment.
“We don’t want to take away the men’s piece of the pie (access to accurate diagnosis and correct treatment); we want to ensure that everyone has pie.
“And everyone wants pie, right?”
© 2011 Laura Haywood-Cory
P.S. Laura also helped her SCAD sister Katherine Leon in convincing Mayo Clinic to launch groundbreaking research about their shared rare cardiac diagnosis. The duo was subsequently featured in the Wall Street Journal because of this remarkable success as patient advocates. If you are also a SCAD survivor, find out how you, too, can participate in two new Mayo Clinic research studies on SCAD.
January 31, 2016: The American Heart Association released its first ever scientific statement on women’s heart attacks, confirming that “compared to men, women tend to be undertreated“, and including this finding: “While the most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort for both sexes, women are more likely to have atypical symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and back or jaw pain.”