Most women I know are amazing at juggling busy careers, family responsibilities and service in their communities every day. But the tendency many women have to take care of other people before they take care of themselves may not serve them well if they’re having a heart attack.
A new survey for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women public awareness campaign found nearly half of all women don’t know heart disease is the leading cause of death in women, and about half don’t know the symptoms of a heart attack.
Even more concerning, only a little over half of women would call for emergency help if they thought they were having a heart attack.
“We become caregivers. Our focus is on others, not on ourselves,” says Kathie Luth, a nurse and clinical educator at Provena Covenant Medical Center, Urbana.
Another reason women may not call for help: Luth says heart attacks are sometims easier to identify in men then they are in women.
"Men do tend to have more of the central chest pain, the elephant sitting on their chest, the Hollywood heart attack sort of thing,” she says.
Women often have symptoms so vague they explain them away, Luth says. Symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, indigestion, heartburn and pain — not always in the chest , but in other areas of the body such as the throat, upper abdomen, neck and arms.
The new survey, to be published in the March issue of “Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes,” also found young women are more likely to believe breast cancer is their biggest potential health threat, and that the percentages of women correctly identifying heart disease as the leading killer of women are a bit lower among black and Hispanic women.
Awareness campaigns such as Go Red for Women are making progress. In 1997, when the survey was first done, just 30 percent of women realized heart disease is the leading cause of death in women.
Luth’s advice for busy, nurturing women who may be neglecting their own heart health:
1. Focus on your children’s heart health by being a great role model for them. Cook and eat healthy, exercise, and maybe even invite your kids to exercise with you. Both mom and kids will benefit.
2. Speak up at the doctor’s office. Women tend to worry about getting their annual pap tests and mammograms, but should also be asking their doctors about ordering other screenings related to their cardiovascular health.
About the writer
Health writer Debra Pressey has been a staff reporter for The News-Gazette for 24 years. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, she is the mother of one teen-age daughter and loves dogs, cooking, reading and baseball. She is especially interested in diet and nutrition and eats mostly vegetarian. She walks for exercise, though not enough in the winter, and was extremely happy to learn a little dark chocolate can be good for us.
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