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Mar 16, 2015

Delays in Treatment Worsen Heart Attack Outcomes in Women

Women having heart attacks take longer to seek help and face greater risk of death than men.

Women are more likely than men to die from a heart attack due to delays in treatment, according to a study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 64th Annual Scientific Session in San Diego.

Led by Raffaele Bugiardini, MD, professor of cardiology at the University of Bologna, Italy, this study examined health records of nearly 7,500 European patients treated for heart attacks between 2010 and 2014 and found some glaring differences between outcomes among men and women.

Not only do women wait longer to call 911 than men after a heart attack, they take longer to get the hospital once they reach out for help. Based on self-reported data, women waited an average of one hour before calling 911, compared to 45 minutes for men. More than two-thirds of women took longer than an hour to get to a hospital and some waited as long as three days before finally arriving at a hospital that could treat them. In comparison, fewer than a third of men took more than an hour to arrive at a hospital after calling for help.

Not surprisingly, these delays in treatment had a major impact on survival rates for women. Women suffering a heart attack were nearly twice as likely to die in the hospital compared to men, with in-hospital deaths reported for 12 percent of women and 6 percent of men in the study. Women were also less likely to undergo treatment to open clogged arteries, which can be lifesaving when performed soon after the heart attack starts.

“Our findings should set off an alarm for women, who may not understand their personal risk of heart disease and may take more time to realize they are having a heart attack and need urgent medical help,” Bugiardini said.

As authors suggest, these delays are likely in part due to the fact that women may not have the “classic” signs of heart attack. For example, many women experience shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, or pain in the back, neck or jaw instead of the crushing chest pain that is so common in men. These “atypical” symptoms may come and go and could be mistaken for indigestion, which can lead to misdiagnosis and contribute to delays in treatment.

This study highlights the need to educate women about atypical heart attack symptoms and the importance of seeking immediate treatment. Time is of the essence when it comes to heart attack, and the sooner women arrive at the hospital after a heart attack, the better their chances of survival.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How does heart attack risk differ in men and women?
  • Although risk factors for heart attack are similar among men and women, women are more likely to have more serious heart attacks, resulting in death. Women also tend to experience atypical symptoms of heart attack, such as abdominal pain, heartburn, clammy skin, dizziness and fatigue. It is important to call 9-1-1 at the first sign of either typical or atypical heart attack symptoms to seek immediate medical attention.

Featured Video

Women often experience heart attack symptoms differently than men. It's important for a woman to be able to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack and react quickly by calling 911.

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