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Women's Heart Health
Coronary heart disease kills twice as many women as breast cancer in the UK. However, there is a widespread misperception that it's a man’s disease.
This lack of awareness of their risk could mean women are less likely to recognise they are having a heart attack, leading them to delay seeking help.
Women typically arrive at hospital later than men when having a heart attack, contributing to delays in treatment. A heart attack is a medical emergency - delays in receiving treatment are putting women’s lives at risk.
Women are 50% more likely than men to receive the wrong initial diagnosis for a heart attack.
Someone who has an incorrect initial diagnosis of heart attack has a 70% higher risk of death after 30 days compared to someone who receives the correct diagnosis straightaway.
This statistic shows that women are disadvantaged compared to men at the outset of their treatment.
Shockingly, a recent briefing from the British Heart Foundation has revealed that women are dying needlessly from heart attacks, or not making as good a recovery as they could, because they don't receive the same care and treatment as men.
Women are less likely than men to receive a number of potentially life-saving treatments in a timely way.
Following a heart attack, women are less likely to be prescribed medications to help prevent a second heart attack.
Spot the signs of a heart attack
It’s a common misconception that men and women experience different heart attack symptoms. While symptoms vary from person to person, there are no specific symptoms that one gender experience more or less often than the other.
Signs and symptoms of a heart attack in women
It has been found through research that women having a heart attack delay seeking medical help longer than men because they don't recognise the symptoms. This can dramatically reduce chances of survival. The aim of medical help is to restore blood flow to the affected part of the heart muscle as soon as possible. This helps to limit the amount of damage to the heart.
Heart attack symptoms can vary from person to person, but the most common signs of a heart attack are:
Chest pain or discomfort in your chest that suddenly occurs and doesn't go away. It may feel like pressure, tightness or squeezing
The pain may spread to your left or right arm or may spread to your neck, jaw, back or stomach
You may also feel sick, sweaty, light-headed or short of breath.
Other less common symptoms include:
a sudden feeling of anxiety that can feel similar to a panic attack
excessive coughing or wheezing
A heart attack is a medical emergency and can be life threatening. People experiencing any of these symptoms should phone 999 immediately for an ambulance, regardless of their sex.
Do women have as many heart attacks as men?
In Ireland, half of women will die from cardiovascular disease and are seven times more likely to die from heart disease than breast cancer. Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the main cause of heart attacks and was the single biggest killer of women worldwide in 2019. Despite this, it’s often considered a man’s disease.
Did you know?
Women who have similar risk factors to men may have a greater chance of developing coronary heart disease.
Can women reduce their risk of having a heart attack?
Before the menopause, women in general have a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease. This is due to the hormone oestrogen which helps to control cholesterol levels and in turn, reduces the risk of fatty plaques building up inside the artery walls. During and after the menopause, a woman's body gradually produces less oestrogen which therefore increases the risk of the coronary arteries narrowing. This risk continues to rise as you get older. It is important to be aware of the risk factors that can affect your risk of developing CHD. The more risk factors you have, the higher your risk.
Risk factors include:
high blood pressure
not doing enough physical activity.
Risk factors for heart disease are often more deadly for women. Smoking increases women's heart attack risk up to twice as much as men’s, high blood pressure increases women’s risk 80 per cent more, and type 2 diabetes increases women’s risk 50 per cent more.
Identifying and managing risk factors early on could help lower your risk of a heart attack in the future.
Did you know?
Risk factors for heart disease are often more deadly for women. Smoking increases women's heart attack risk up to twice as much as men’s, high blood pressure increases women’s risk 80 per cent more, and type 2 diabetes increases women’s risk 50 percent more.
It is recommended that all women over the age of 40 visit their local GP or nurse for a health check to check their cardiovascular risk. If you're aged 40–74 and living in England, you can ask for an NHS health check. Similar schemes are also available in other parts of the UK.
Your doctor should invite you to review your risk every five years, but you can also just make an appointment yourself to check your blood pressure and cholesterol. This check might help to highlight anything that could put you at increased risk of having a heart attack.
If you have a family history of heart or circulatory disease, make sure you tell your doctor or nurse. You're considered to have a family history of heart or circulatory disease if:
your father or brother was under the age of 55 when they were diagnosed with a heart or circulatory disease or
your mother or sister was under the age of 65 when they were diagnosed with a heart or circulatory disease.
Heart Helpline & other supports
The British Heart Foundation offer a range of different supports
Call their Heart Helpline on 0300 330 3311 between Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.