This morning, I came across an alarming article written by Lindsay Dixon,’ ‘What are we getting wrong when it comes to women’s health care?’. In this article she tells the story of Carolyn Thomas, a Canadian woman who went to Emergency with symptoms of a heart attack, typical in women. And was discharged hours later with heartburn medication.
Carolyn then got on a plane and flew across the country. She was still suffering from her ‘heartburn’ but didn’t notify the flight crew because she didn’t want to cause a fuss over indigestion. Like so many women do every single day, she decided to “shut up and just grin and bear it,” for fear of causing a scene.
After landing more than 5 hours later, Carolyn was feeling worse. She required help to reach the baggage carousel, get her luggage, and get to her car. She then drove herself back to Emergency with the hopes of getting some stronger antacids. Finally, her symptoms were progressed enough and she was properly diagnosed as having a heart attack. Carolyn was rushed into an operating room.
How is it possible that with so much technology at our fingertips that Carolyn’s heart attack could have been misdiagnosed?
It’s unfortunately extremely common that women are misdiagnosed when suffering a heart attack. In fact, The New England Journal of Medicine reports that ‘women are seven times more likely to be misdiagnosed in mid-heart attack and sent home from the Emergency Department as compared to men.’
It might be because women often present very differently than men. Many don’t necessarily have the typical male chest pain and shortness of breath.
Instead, the 5 signs of heart attack in women are :
- Angina—usually felt as a dull or heavy chest discomfort or ache (this may persist for several minutes, go away and come back again)
- Pain in the neck, jaw, or throat
- Pain in the upper abdomen or back and in one or both arms
- Nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness
- Tiredness that won’t go away or feels excessive
If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important not to delay seeking medical attention. Get to the hospital right away.
Want to know more?
Check out some of these resources:
- The American Heart Association Go Red for Women
- The British Heart Foundation
- The Canadian Women’s Heart Health Centre
- Carolyn Thomas’ Heart Sisters, For Women Living With Heart Disease