Written by Amy Beecham
World Heart Day 2021 is raising essential awareness around women and heart disease.
According to the British Heart Foundation, there are around 7.6 million people living with a heart or circulatory disease in the UK.
However, as 29 September marks World Heart Day, the charity is raising awareness to dispel the myth that heart disease only affects men, and help women to better recognise the signs and symptoms of heart disease.
Heart disease is the single biggest killer of women worldwide, and kills twice as many women as breast cancer every year in the UK.
In partnership with BHF, Dr Hazel Wallace aka The Food Medic on Instagram, shared a post identifying the “heart attack gender gap” and the devastating consequences it has.
“Unfortunately, at every stage of care, women who have heart attacks also receive inferior care than men. In fact, in one study over 10 years in England and Wales, women were twice as likely as men to die in the month after heart attack,” wrote Dr Wallace.
Indeed, the BHF’s research has found that over a 10-year period more than 8,200 women died needlessly following a heart attack. So why is there a heart attack gender gap? And what can be done about it?
“In part it’s down to biology, but it’s also down to bias,” says Dr Wallace.
The post explains that a woman is 1.5 times more likely than a man to receive the wrong initial diagnosis for a heart attack.
Women also tend to arrive at hospital later than men when having a heart attack, which is largely due to a lack of awareness, as well as attributing symptoms to something else, waiting until symptoms worsen, or attempting to self-medicate.
The BHF’s research found there is no difference in key heart attack symptoms between men and women, despite this being a widespread perception.
Chest pain was reported as the most common symptom for both men and women, and 49% of women reported pain that radiated to their left arm. More women had pain that radiated to their jaw or back, and women were also more likely to experience nausea in addition to chest pain than men.
Dr Wallace also identified this bias in both treatment and discharge, stating that women are both less likely to receive potentially life-saving treatments in a timely manner following diagnosis of a heart attack, and then to be prescribed risk-lowering medications to help prevent a second attack.
“When it comes to heart attacks, from symptom onset to discharge, the odds are stacked against women. We need to start the conversation and raise awareness so that women receive better care and more women’s lives are saved.”
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