Heart Attacks And The Misunderstood Gender Gap
When it comes to heart attacks, knowing the difference between male and female heart attack symptoms could save a life.

When asked to describe what a heart attack looks like, we all tend to recall some dramatic scene from a movie or TV show where a middle-aged man, probably after receiving some tremendous news, suddenly clutches his chest, gasps in shock and falls to the ground. Such moments of melodrama would include a murmur about a feeling of “stabbing” in his left arm, shortness of breath and a mask of pained expression as the man is slowly lowered into a chair, followed by a dramatic ambulance scene showing his admission into the hospital.

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 17.7 million people died from Cardio Vascular Diseases (CVDs) in 2015, representing 31% of all global deaths. 80% of these deaths were due to heart attacks or strokes. However, they rarely look like the so-called obvious case the television depicts. As the old medical literature taught script writers, classic heart attack symptoms include pressure and aching at the chest area, discomfort that radiates to the upper part of the body (shoulders, neck, and arms) and excessive sweating. Yet many heart attacks occur without any of these symptoms and rather include what is now referred to as “Neoclassical” symptoms: shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, back pain, and unexplained fatigue.

Four surprising facts you didn’t know about heart attacks and the difference between male and female symptoms:

  1. Men tend to suffer more heart attacks on average at a younger age than women (65 for men, 72 for women). However more women die of heart attacks than men.
    Among the reasons for the high mortality rate (women on average have a longer life expectancy), one can’t help but include the fact that women tend to report less heart attacks as they happen as they are unaware that they are even experiencing one. Limited awareness leads to less appropriate treatments, which in turn lowers the survival rates dramatically.
  2. Women experiencing heart attacks tend to have more “Neoclassical” symptoms than men.
    Women report different symptoms and rarely relate them to heart attacks in real time, often mistaking it for “the flu” or “a stomach bug”.
  3. Women are 12 times more likely to experience throat discomfort during heart attacks, as well as 3.7 times more likely to experience indigestion and 3.9 times more likely to vomit.
    Women are also more likely to experience shortness of breath without chest discomfort as if they have run a marathon but in truth haven’t exerted excessive energy. This is accompanied by pain or discomfort in the arms, back, and jaw! Men are 4.7 times more likely to experience right-sided chest discomfort and 3.9 times more likely to report a general dull ache.
  4. On average, it takes men 3 hours to call for medical assistance when having a heart attack and 4 hours for women!

Early detection and treatment is key to survival when experiencing a heart attack. Seek immediate medical attention or speak to your healthcare professional if you are suffering from any of the above symptoms. It’s never too early to ask for help.


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