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Jul 28, 2011

Marital Status and Seeking Care During Heart Attack

Married men half as likely to delay seeking care after a heart attack than single men.

A heart attack, known as myocardial infarction, occurs when the blood vessels to the heart become blocked, preventing oxygen from getting to the heart. This blockage can cause a variety of symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath and nausea. Seeking medical help at the first sign of a heart attack is crucial to improving outcomes, as about half of adults die within an hour of the first symptoms, often before they reach the hospital.  But are some more likely to seek immediate care after the onset of heart attack symptoms than others?

A recent study found that married men are much more likely to seek immediate medical care after signs of chest pain than unmarried men. Ironically, however, marital status does not seem to improve women’s odds of seeking timely care after chest pain from a heart attack.

These findings were based on a study published this month in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, in which researchers analyzed the time it took for over 4,400 Canadian patients to seek medical care after experiencing chest pain from a heart attack. The mean age of patients was 67.3 years and about one-third were women. Nearly three-quarters of the patients presented to a hospital within six hours, and half of the patients presented to a hospital within two hours. However, married men were half as likely to delay seeking care as single men — a benefit that was not observed for married women.

Based on study findings, it is likely that married men have lower mortality rates from heart attack due to their likelihood of seeking immediate care, in comparison with their single counterparts. Women, on the other hand, have higher mortality rates from heart attack than men, in part due to delaying medical care after the presentation of heart attack symptoms. Therefore, men and women must better understand the importance of seeking immediate care during a heart attack to help reduce risk of death and to improve outcomes. 

Questions for You to Consider

  • Are heart attack symptoms different for men and women?
  • Yes. Although women can experience the same heart attack symptoms as men, women are much more likely to experience atypical signs of a heart attack, which may come and go. These symptoms include pressure in the chest; pain in the arms, upper back, neck, jaw or stomach; nausea or vomiting; difficulty breathing; breaking out in a cold sweat; fatigue; clammy skin and/or an inability to sleep. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to experience more widely recognized symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath.
  • What should I do if I experience heart attack symptoms?

  • Call 911 at the first signs of heart attack. Do not delay and do not attempt to drive yourself to the hospital. Calling 911 and taking an ambulance to the hospital will provide you with the most immediate and effective treatment possible for a heart attack, reducing likelihood of long-term damage to the heart and death.

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