MILLIONS of women have no idea they could have a heart attack – because they believe only men suffer fatal cardiac arrests, a study suggests.
Official figures show there are more than 800,000 women in the UK living with coronary heart disease, which is the main cause of heart attacks.
1 Women are putting themselves at a higher risk of heart attack – because they think only men suffer cardiac problems, a study suggestsCredit: Alamy
And around 35,000 women are admitted to hospital following a heart attack each year in the UK – an average of 98 per day, or four per hour.
But despite this researchers who polled 2,000 women found more than one in 10 believe only men have to worry about heart complaints.
And around one in eight don’t believe women suffer from heart attacks, while one in four think they would experience different symptoms to men if they did.Less likely to seek help
As a result, more than a third of women reckon they are less likely to seek help for chest pains than men.
Dr Sarah Brewer, medical director at Healthspan, which commissioned the research, said: “Many are aware that heart attacks are something men need to be concerned about, but there is a huge misconception among women that they aren’t at risk.
“Not only is this wrong, but it could be the difference between life and death for some if they don’t take symptoms or the risk of a heart attack seriously.”
The study found just 87 per cent of women would associate chest pains or discomfort with having a heart attack, while only 57 per cent recognise profuse and unexplained sweating as a possible symptom.
Others were unaware back pain (80 per cent), feeling sick (64 per cent) or feeling light-headed (59 per cent) could also be a signal of a heart attack.
Dr Ameet Bakhai, consultant cardiologist at The Spire Bushey Hospital, said: “The risk of women having a heart attack increases for women once they have gone through the menopause due in part to a reduction in oestrogen.
“And more than one in 10 in the survey didn’t realise this, plus a common misconception is that by being on HRT, women are protected from heart disease and unfortunately that’s not a straight forward assumption either.
“The research around this has shown some benefits and some risks unfortunately.
“Women are also not aware that they have a higher chance of suffering from a heart attack if their male partner has had a heart attack given that husbands.
“And wives often share the same behavioural risk factors and environmental factors such as smoking or sedentary lifestyle.”
Additionally the stress of looking after a husband dying or surviving of a heart attack affects the wife caregiver negatively and increases their own risk of health issues, worsened by anxiety and depression.
There are many risk factors linked to cardiovascular disease and one in five of those surveyed said they have a family history of cardiovascular disease but 28 per cent said they do little or no exercise to improve their cardio health.
Almost one in five of the women polled have high blood pressure while others have high cholesterol levels (12 per cent), smoke (16 per cent) or are overweight (30 per cent).
But worryingly, 58 per cent of women have no idea what their blood pressure is, while 77 per cent don’t keep tabs on their cholesterol levels.
It also emerged 33 per cent of women have suffered from chest pains, but only around half of them got it checked out by a GP.
Heart disease is biggest killer of Brits – the 11 early warning signs you need to knowWith heart disease being the biggest killer in the UK, it’s important to know the early warnings to look out.
Professor David Newby, from the British Heart Foundation, says there are 11 symptoms you need to take seriously…
1. Chest pain
It’s the classic sign of a heart attack, yet many people don’t realise this could be a medical emergency.
Professor Newby says: “If you have chest pain and you feel extremely unwell, you should dial 999 and get an ambulance as soon as possible.
“If it’s a heart attack, it’s usually described as a heaviness, tightness or pressure in the chest; people will often describe it as ‘an elephant sat on my chest’ or ‘it felt like a tight band around my chest,’ that sort of constricting feeling.
“If chest pains occur when you are exerting yourself, but go away when you stop, that would suggest it’s more likely to be angina.
“That would still mean you should go and see a doctor, but you don’t have to call 999.”
2. Feeling sick
Of course, not every bout of nausea could mean a heart attack – but if it’s accompanied with pain then warning bells should be going off.
Professor Newby said: “If you experience intense chest pain even when you are just sitting around doing nothing and you are also feeling sick, that is the time to call for an ambulance.”
If you’re getting some discomfort, but not intense pain, as well as feeling sick, call NHS 111 for advice.
3. Stomach pain
It may feel a little like indigestion, but sometimes that ache could be the early signs of a heart attack.
Professor Newby says: “Because the heart, the gullet [the passage between your mouth and stomach] and the stomach are all lying right next to each other, the challenge, for both members of the public and doctors, is that a burning or indigestion-type pain and heart pain can be difficult to disentangle.
“You could call NHS 111 for advice – they have certain algorithms they apply, but they aren’t perfect as there are no hard and fast rules that apply to everyone.”
4. Feeling sweaty
Working up a sweat when you’ve been to the gym or because it’s a really hot day, is nothing to worry about.
But feeling hot and clammy along with chest pains is a sign that you should call an ambulance.
5. Leg pain
Professor Newby says: “If you get a gripping, cramping sensation in your calves when you are walking, it might be worth seeing your doctor, as that can be a marker of PAD (peripheral arterial disease).
“It’s most common in smokers and people who have diabetes.”
6. Arm pain
It’s not one you might associate with your heart – but a pain in your arm is another warning sign.
If the pain is going down the arm, especially on the left side, or it goes into the neck, that means it’s more likely to be heart-related than indigestion.
Prof Newby says: “If it doesn’t go away, or if you know you have heart disease and have used your GTN (glyceryl trinitrate) spray two or three times to no discernible effect, you should be seeking emergency medical advice.”
7. Jaw or back pain
For some, the pain can be in other unusual places like the jaw or back.
There is some evidence that women’s symptoms are more likely to vary from ‘classic’ chest pain, and we know that women are less likely to seek medical attention and treatment.
8. Choking sensation
The word ‘angina’ actually means choking, says Prof Newby.
Sometimes the pain can be felt up in the throat and people tend to describe it as a choking sensation.
If it continues and you’ve not previously been diagnosed with a heart condition you should call 111, he says.
9. Swollen ankles
Prof Newby says swollen ankles should never be ignored – especially if they get really big.
He says: “It can be a marker of heart failure, but it is also very common and has lots of other causes.
“It could just as easily be from tablets you are taking – for example, blood pressure medication can lead to swollen ankles.”
10. Extreme fatigue
Feeling tired all the time can be a symptom of heart failure, as well as of other conditions.
Prof Newby says: “Many of my patients tell me they’re tired, whether they’ve got heart failure or not, whether they’ve got angina or not. It’s a difficult one, because it’s so non-specific.”
If you’re tired and you’ve been working long hours or staying up late, it’s probably not your heart.
But if you start experiencing extreme tiredness and your lifestyle hasn’t changed, it’s a good idea to chat to your GP.
11. Irregular heartbeat
In most cases, a jumped heartbeat is usually benign, according to Prof Newby.
But if it’s going very fast and jumping around erratically then it’s probably time to see your GP.
Of those who didn’t seek medical advice, 58 per cent felt it wasn’t anything serious while 24 per cent didn’t want to waste their doctor’s time.
Others said they were too busy (10 per cent), didn’t believe women needed to worry about chest pains (eight per cent) or were too worried about what they might say (13 per cent).
Almost one in five women do worry about their heart health but only one in 10 have had a health check to access their cardiovascular health.
But more than one in twenty have been warned they are at risk of a heart attack by a medical expert.
Dr Ameet Bakhai added: “Regular check-ups and screening is vital and the Healthspan survey showed that 69 per cent of people who took the survey were already on a statin to lower their cholesterol.
“Many people self-medicate due to the side effects of statins which isn’t always without risk but there are solutions that research has shown can counteract the muscular aches and fatigue that some patients experience.
“For example, for some patients I recommend Co-enzyme Q10 supplements such as Ubiquinol (the body ready form of Coenzyme Q10).
“A summary of careful review of the research showed that this form of supplementation may be a complementary approach to manage statin‐induced myopathy or muscle aches.”
Improve your lifestyle
Changing jobs or reducing stress, cutting back on cigarettes and alcohol and taking supplements are also among the ways women try to improve their lifestyle to minimise the risk of heart problems.
Dr Meg Arroll a chartered psychologist and a health researcher working with Healthspan said: “A third of those in the study have changed their diet while 36 per cent have exercised more often to try to reduce the chances of a heart attack.
“There are many psychological, cognitive and practical barriers to behaviour change when it comes to making lifestyle choices, but the good thing is that once these are identified, any helpful patterns can be tackled.
“These ‘modifiable’ factors are important because although we might not be able to change our family history of heart disease, we can certainly alter our thought patterns and tweak our environments to support health.
“For instance, many people have unrealistic optimism when it comes to health outcomes, thinking that heart issues will never happen to them because they have never experienced any symptoms.
“This is why the research commissioned by Healthspan is so important, because many people are unaware of the range of symptoms associated with cardiovascular disease.
“By having this information as starting point, we can challenge cognitive distortion such as optimism bias, increase our levels of perceived control and make fundamental changes to lifestyle.”
More than a third of those say the health issue has made them feel older than their years, while more than a quarter feel more anxious than they did before.
One in four admitted it made them think more deeply about their mortality, while 15 per cent even felt depressed following their heart attack.
Others admitted it has made them reassess what is important in their lives (23 per cent), affected their confidence at work (21 per cent) or even made them feel like a different person (26 per cent).
Dr Meg Arroll added: “Experiencing a life-threatening event such as a heart attack can have a significant impact on how we perceive ourselves, the world around us and our psychological wellbeing – as demonstrated by the Healthspan survey.
“It’s essential to give ourselves space and time to take stock of these shifts in identity, which will limit the detrimental effects on mental health.
APPLES & PEARS Apple-shaped women more likely to have stroke but pear-shaped risk halves WAY TO KETO Low-carb diets ‘reduce diabetes and stroke risk even if you don’t lose weight’ MASTER STROKE Specialist stroke units could save thousands of lives, top doc claims KNOW THE SIGNS 1 in 5 suffer ‘white coat hypertension’ – DOUBLING the risk of heart disease NO YOLK Eating more than ONE egg a day raises risk of heart attack or stroke, study claims LIFE SAVER CPR dummies with breasts make first aiders comfortable touching women’s chests DIE INS Lying in ONE HOUR ‘increases your risk of obesity and heart problems by a third’ SPOT THE SIGNS Heart disease is biggest killer of Brits – 11 warning signs you should know BROKEN HEARTS Divorced men ‘more likely to die from heart conditions than their ex-wives’ KNOW THE SIGNS Lives at risk as heart failure is often misdiagnosed as ASTHMA, experts warn MENDING BROKEN HEARTS Thumb-sized plaster ‘repairs heart attack damage in days’ BREKKIE BENEFITS People who skip breakfast are ‘twice as likely to die from heart disease’
“But if you do feel anxious or depressed following a heart attack, do see your GP who may refer you to a psychological service.
“Help is out there; you needn’t suffer with the aftermath of a heart attack in isolation.’’
The study, carried out via OnePoll, also found three in 100 of those polled have suffered from a heart attack.
We pay for your stories! Do you have a story for The Sun Online news team? Email us at email@example.com or call 0207 782 4368 . You can WhatsApp us on 07810 791 502. We pay for videos too. Click here to upload yours.