Women in danger of missing heart attack warnings

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Heart disease remains the number one killer of men and women in America. Although there’s a perception it’s more of a man’s disease, 50,000 women will die from heart attacks this year. Now a new study from the American Heart Association finds women are undertreated for heart attacks, meaning they don’t often recognize the symptoms and sometimes doctors misdiagnose what is there.

Feeling poorly one day last fall, Debbbie Jahns called 9-1-1, she was rushed to the ER for all sorts of tests. She recalls, “They diagnosed it as an upper respiratory infection and sent me home, but I had this feeling it was something more than that.” A few weeks later she was still dogged by fatigue, heavy arms, a pain in her back and nausea. In a follow up visit to her cardiologist, he recognized those symptoms may not seem like a heart attack warning, but they were.

Dr. Vivek Goswami at the Heart Hospital of Austin explains, “Sometimes women can present isolated throat discomfort or just arm pain. Epigastric pain in their stomach, back pain, shortness of breath. These are very subtle nondescript symptoms.” According to the American Heart Association men take a median average of sixteen hours to report their heart attack symptoms, women take 54. That may be because women can be fooled by those symptoms.

Dr. Goswami ordered a catheterized coronary angiogram, a bit invasive but very telling. Debbi asked if it was really necessary and was told it was best to be able to rule things out, so she gave the go ahead. She smiles, “I almost didn’t do it but that is what saved my life.” According to Dr. Goswami, “Often times the health provider, the doctor, can misdiagnose. Women are more likely to be misdiagnosed with heartburn, anxiety stress, thereby missing the critical diagnosis of heart disease and thereby delaying the time for very important treatment.”

Debbie says, “They found I had a 90% blockage in a very important artery, so they said it looks like we need to put in a stent. I asked now and they said yes.” The stent was inserted immediately, her artery opened and Debbie is feeling as good as new. She makes the point, “My advice would be to pay attention to those things and of course it helps to have a great doctor, like Dr. Goswami.” He adds, “Even though she did everything right and we did everything right it was still almost missed if we hadn’t had the extra conversation and added vigilance. This could have been easily missed even though we were going by the book.”

Taking a deeper look at heart attacks and women, apart from the chest pains or discomfort. women may feel pain in their back, arm, neck and jaw. They may feel weak and have nausea. Women and men share many common risk factors, but Type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure are more potent heart dangers in women. And depressed women have a 50% higher risk of heart attack, perhaps because depression can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle.

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