Many Women Unaware of Heart Disease Risk

January 29, 2015

By Mercy's Jeff Raymond

You may know that heart disease is the number-one killer of men in the United States and in Oklahoma.

But did you know that it’s the number-one killer of women as well? Heart disease and stroke account for nearly one-third of all female deaths in Oklahoma, according to the American Heart Association.

Heart disease killed 4,370 women in Oklahoma in 2012, according to the most recent numbers from the Oklahoma State Department of Health, and symptoms of heart attack in women often differ from those in men.

There’s the classic chest pain and shortness of breath in both men and women, but women may also feel extreme fatigue, an impending sense of doom, right-side (as opposed to the well-known left-side) pain or back pain, all of which can be associated with a number of illnesses.

Dr. Connie Wilson, an emergency medicine physician with Chickasaw Nation Medical Center, elaborated on how men and women may experience heart attacks differently and why.

“It’s more likely than not that women don’t have the crushing chest pains, shortness of breath that men do,” she said. “Women sometimes have milder symptoms – more vague.”

Recognizing those symptoms may very well be a matter of life and death, because response time is often critical in cases of heart attack or cardiac arrest.

In cases of cardiac arrest, it is vital to call 911 and use an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) immediately if one is available. According to the American Heart Association, one may only have five minutes to restore circulation once the heart stops beating.

An AED is a computerized medical device that can check an individual’s heart rhythm and administer a shock to restore normal heart beat. Moreover, the AED walks the user through the proper steps with voice prompts, lights and text messages. 

Lori Wightman, president of Mercy Hospital Ada, wants to put AEDs everywhere “we work, learn, play and pray.” Placing AEDs around Ada is the first step in a broad effort to confront heart disease – working backward from intervention to prevention, she explained.

“As we address heart disease in the community, it’s a long-term conversation,” she said. “After making sure we respond as quickly as possible and have all the tools available when someone undergoes sudden cardiac arrest, then we’ll work our way back to early detection.

“I hope we get into talking about prevention fairly quickly as a community,” she said.

Perhaps because of women’s traditional role as caregivers, they would send a husband to the hospital immediately upon suspicion of heart problems but would keep mum about their own symptoms.

“I’ve just noticed over the years that women try to rationalize that they’ll be alright or that they’ll wait and they will pass,” Wilson said. “I still think that’s true for today’s women.”

Additionally, people who have heart attacks often fall on one end of the spectrum or the other. They either think they’re going to die or they think they’ll fully recover and go back to their lives, Wilson explained. Instead, they often survive but function at a lower level than before. This is particularly important for women who care for older, ailing husbands.

“Taking care of themselves helps them take care of others,” Wilson said.

Mercy Hospital Ada is partnering with the Chickasaw Nation to educate women on the signs and symptoms of heart disease and raise money for the additional AEDs at the Wear Red for Women luncheon 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 26 at Oak Hills Golf and Country Club. For more information or to RSVP, email or call 580-421-1476. The cost is $10 per person.


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