Woodward, Okla. —
Heart attacks are not just a man's disease.
In fact, women have a higher mortality rate from heart disease than men do, according to American Heart Association statistics shared by Cardiologist Dr. Jeff Sparling during a Healthy Woman event at Woodward Regional Hospital earlier this week.
Sparling said one of the reasons heart disease is so deadly for women is because it is difficult to diagnose in women.
He said these diagnosis difficulties arise from 2 areas: 1) the misconception that women don't have heart attacks and 2) that heart disease often presents differently with different symptoms in women.
COMBATING THE MISCONCEPTION
Sparling said he believes that the reason there is such a misconception about heart disease in women is a lack of education.
"My belief is that it's all one of education, we have not done a good job until the 2000s of educating about cardiovascular disease in women," he said.
That's why he is such a big supporter of the American Heart Association's (AHA) "Go Red for Women" campaign, which seeks to increase awareness of heart disease in women like the Susan G. Komen Foundation increased awareness of breast cancer.
And like the pink ribbon for breast cancer, the Go Red for Women campaign has a red dress symbol that it uses to help promote awareness of cardiovascular health.
Attendees of the recent Healthy Woman event were even presented with red dress lapel pins that they can wear to join in the awareness efforts.
The sobering truth, Sparling said is that cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women and "claims the life of one woman every minute."
But what makes heart disease so deadly in women?
Often is because women may not recognize when they're having a heart attack.
While many may think of chest pain as the main symptom of a heart attack, Sparling said that isn't true for many women.
"The symptom that's primarily experienced by women having a heart attack is shortness of breath," he said.
One woman in the audience at the recent Healthy Woman event spoke up and shared her own experience with heart disease.
"I had a heart attack and I had no chest pain or any pain like that," she said. "I was throwing up, had diarrhea and the cold sweats. I just thought I had the flu."
"And those are 3 things that you would never think were associated with heart problems," Sparling said.
According to the AHA goredforwomen.org website, nausea and flu-like symptoms are just one kind of hard to recognize heart attack symptoms that often present in women.
The website quotes Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of The Heart and Vascular Institute at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, as saying other surprising symptoms include back pain and pain in the jaw or neck.
"Sometimes the heart isn't able to give a good signal and, instead, the pain can radiate to the neck, jaw and back," Steinbaum said.
The AHA recommends that women who are experiencing any irregular pains in those areas or who have shortness of breath or suspicious flu-like symptoms go get checked out for a possible heart attack.