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Do women delay seeking medical help?

A recent study, as reviewed by the American Heart association, shows that women tend to ignore or dismiss symptoms of cardiac events, and thus delay seeking medical help.

The researchers from the Yale School of Medicine interviewed 30 women who suffered from a heart attack about the events before hospitalization. The interviews revealed that many of these women failed to recognize the warning signs of an impending heart attack and dismissed them as due to stress, fatigue or just plain indigestion. Some of these symptoms are headache, neck pain, tummy discomfort, and tiredness. Most of the interviewees expect a heart attack to be more dramatic – the kind that you see on films – and to happen to older people. This resulted in women delaying seeking medical help until the symptoms became more pronounced.

Aside from not recognizing the symptoms, the interviewed women also delay because of:

  • Uncertainty
  • Preference to self-medicate
  • Perceived negative treatment by healthcare providers
  • Competing time/family demands
  • Individual beliefs and behaviors to health system failures
  • Seeking corroboration of symptoms and deferring responsibility to engage the healthcare system

From my point of view, one big reason that we (premenopausal) women would tend to dismiss the above-described symptoms is the fact that every month, we suffer from a wide range of physical discomfort in connection with our menstrual cycle. Then comes more difficulties during pregnancy. In other words, women are used to physical discomfort. It’s no wonder if we tend to dismiss headaches and tummy pains as part of our daily life.

The researchers conclude that young women, their doctors, and their families need to be more informed about heart symptoms and how to distinguish them from other innocuous discomforts of daily life.

The CDC estimates that 47% of cardiac deaths occur before arrival of emergency help or arrival at the hospital In addition, more than half of those who died of heart disease in 2002 were women.

How about you? Would you recognize the early signs of a heart attack? Would you know what to do?


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