“I had no clue that this was such an issue, or how ‘at risk’ I am for heart disease. Thank you sincerely for your presentation, and for making a difference in women’s lives.”
Five months after my heart attack, I attended the WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium for Women with Heart Disease (the first Canadian ever invited to attend this annual community educator training) at the world-famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Mayo cardiologists at this Symposium taught me more than I ever thought I’d really want to know about women and heart disease.*
What I learned at Mayo Clinic was shocking:
- most cardiac research over the past three decades has been done either exclusively on male subjects, or with fewer than 20% female subjects
- women are under-diagnosed and under-treated compared to male heart patients (UPDATE: see the 2016 Scientific Statement on Women and Heart Attacks from the American Heart Association, which just confirms what I learned at Mayo in 2008)
- cardiac diagnostic tests may not be as accurate for women as for men
- women experience more delays in symptom recognition and treatment
- heart disease kills six times more women than breast cancer – in fact, heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined
- heart disease kills more women than men every year
- women heart patients are more frequently misdiagnosed than men
- even when accurately diagnosed, women are less likely than men to receive proven guideline treatments (angiography, angioplasty, beta blocker or statin drugs – and even aspirin!)
Find out more about other gender differences in women’s overall health care.
What I also learned at Mayo Clinic is that of the 45 women attending our Symposium – all of us heart attack survivors – many of us had been initially sent home from the Emergency Room with misdiagnoses ranging from indigestion to anxiety or menopause. Sadly, misdiagnosis in women is tragically common; a study reported in The New England Journal of Medicine revealed that women under the age of 55 are SEVEN TIMES more likely to be misdiagnosed and sent home from the E.R. in mid-heart attack compared to their male counterparts.(1)
I too had been sent home from Emergency with an acid reflux misdiagnosis, despite presenting with textbook heart attack symptoms like crushing central chest pain, nausea, sweating, and pain radiating down my left arm. For two weeks, I suffered increasingly worsening symptoms – but at least I knew it wasn’t my heart, because a man with the letters M.D. after his name had told me so quite clearly. I was in deep, deep denial. (Read more about the rest of my story, or visit About Me on this site).
Now, whenever I speak to other women about heart disease, I encourage them to:
- empower yourself by not minimizing your health concerns and symptoms
- assume primary responsibility for your health
- be your own best health advocate
- know the warning signs of a heart attack, and have an action plan
- know your personal risk factors and take immediate steps to control them starting today!
- tell other women you care about what you have learned about heart health
* Do you need a patient-friendly glossary of confusing cardiology phrases and terminology?