The Surprising New Reason Heart Attacks Can Be Deadly For Women

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Putting others first is a classic female thing — one that, it turns out, can be life-threatening.

Women are much more likely to call an ambulance when their husband, father, or brother experiences heart attack symptoms than if they are experiencing symptoms themselves, per a new study from the Polish Registry of Acute Coronary Syndromes. The result: Men are more likely than women to receive timely care for a heart attack, a critical step that can reduce the risk of subsequent heart failure.

"Very often women run the house, send children to school, and prepare for family celebrations,” said Mariusz Gąsior, principal investigator of the registry. “We hear over and over again that these responsibilities delay women from calling an ambulance if they experience symptoms of a heart attack."

This study — presented at the European Society of Cardiology’s recent conference — involved 7,582 patients with a particularly serious type of heart attack called ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), in which a major artery to the heart is blocked. For the best results, a doctor should insert a stent to open the artery within 90 minutes of diagnosing STEMI via electrocardiogram. In the study, treatment for 45 percent of patients met these guidelines — and fewer of those who did were women.

ECG results were transmitted to the hospital from an ambulance — allowing for a faster diagnosis — in 40 percent of men at any age, but just 34 percent of women under the age of 54, according to the researchers. Why? Women “take longer to call an ambulance when they have symptoms — this is especially true for younger women,” said the study’s lead author. “In addition, ECG results for younger women are less often sent to the heart attack centre, which is recommended to speed up treatment.” Though prompt treatment wasn’t shown to have an immediate impact on hospital mortality rates, it did reduce the risk of developing heart failure.

The best-known symptoms of heart attack are chest pain and left arm discomfort. Women, however, are more likely to experience atypical symptoms, such as back, shoulder, or stomach pain, another reason they may delay calling an ambulance. If you have sudden, unexplained chest, throat, neck, back, stomach, or shoulder pain lasting longer than 15 minutes, call 911.