PEI

Group aims to help better diagnose heart attacks in women

When it comes to heart attacks, women are not getting the diagnosis they need.

'The symptoms can be a bit different in the way that they present'

( Dragana Gordic/Shutterstock)

When it comes to heart attacks, women are not getting the diagnosis they need.

Canada's Heart and Stroke Association says early heart attack signs are missed in about 78 per cent of women.

"It's a big concern, but the good news is it is finally coming to light," said Dr. Sharon Mulvagh, cardiologist with the Maritime Women's Heart Health Clinic in Halifax, in an interview with CBC Radio: Island Morning host Mitch Cormier.

She is part of a panel of experts gathering in Charlottetown on Thursday to discuss heart disease and stroke as the number one cause of premature death in women.

It's called the See Red Talk. See Red is a movement to educate women about what to say at the emergency room, and how doctors can get better at diagnosing heart attacks in women.

Different symptoms

Mulvagh said one of the problems is that people associate heart disease with men and not women.

'About 55 to 65 per cent of the time women do present with the typical kind of chest pain we think of men having had,' says Dr. Sharon Mulvagh, cardiologist with the Maritime Women's Heart Health Clinic in Halifax.  (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

"The symptoms can be a bit different in the way that they present. Sometimes we can have different types of heart attacks that can be missed as well in women."

She said it isn't just about making the public aware of the signs and symptoms to watch out for, it's about making other physicians aware of what to look for. 

"About 55 to 65 per cent of the time women do present with the typical kind of chest pain we think of men having had, but the other third of women are presenting with other symptoms. The pain can be elsewhere — up in the back and the arms."

Sometimes there isn't any pain in the chest of women suffering heart attack. They might have shortness of breath, fatigue or pain in the stomach, Mulvagh said.

"It's a lot harder to figure out and I think that is why we have been missing heart attacks in women for a long time. We are not attuned to it," she said. 

Use the code word

Another issue is language, women tend to speak differently then men when at the emergency room, Mulvagh said.

"They might come into the emergency room and it's not really what they are perceiving as pain, but it's a tightness or discomfort or an ache."

Mulvagh said if doctors hear "chest pain" they jump to heart attack, but less so if they hear "ache" or "discomfort."

"If you even think you might be possibly having a heart attack then say the words 'chest pain' because that is kind of the code word for you to get that evaluation."

The See Red Talk event is scheduled for Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Murphy's Community Centre.

More P.E.I. news

With files from Island Morning

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