Are Heart Attacks More Deadly for Women?


"The primary conclusion of this study is that there is not a higher mortality in women than men following a heart attack (when adjusted for severity of disease and co-morbidities)," said Nissen. "Accordingly, the study does not suggest a different strategy in women with heart attack. It appears that 'what is good for the goose is also good for the gander.'"

Yet other doctors point out that the study couldn't explain why women had their heart attacks at an older age, and in worse health in the first place. Moreover, doctors wondered whether there are still important differences to note about men and women leading up to the heart attack, if not in the 30 days that follow.

"This study tells us that even in this era of highly sophisticated diagnostic and treatment modalities for heart attack that women's heart disease is different from that seen in men and that women still fare worse," said Dr. Malissa Wood, of the cardiac unit of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Sex Differences in Heart Attack Symptoms Still Exist

"I believe that the big differences start before the heart attack ever happens," said Wood. "Once a woman presents with a heart attack and is of advanced age with diabetes and high blood pressure and their associated complications (blood vessel disease, kidney disease) the horse is out of the barn."

Volpe was only 38 when she had a heart attack. Despite her young age, she experienced some of the worst troubles that seem to affect women who have heart disease. First nobody could recognize her symptoms, and then nobody believed it when she had a heart attack.

"I was very tired, I was very fatigued. I was so tired I thought I was pregnant," said Volpe.

Volpe also occasionally went into dizzy spells, she got out of breath and she would experience chest pain. Her primary care doctor performed some tests -- an EKG and an echocardiography -- but when those came up normal Volpe's doctor suggested anti-anxiety medication.

"She had thought that I was suffering from a generalized anxiety disorder -- I was thinking the only thing that I'm anxious about is that I'm having chest pains," said Volpe.

Another round of tests at a gastrointestinal specialist couldn't explain her chest pains, so Volpe tried to relax with the occasional chest pain.

Then, on March 31, 2007 at a family birthday party she had a heart attack.

"At the ER, the cardiologist said we need to get to her out of here, she's having a massive heart attack and my husband said 'are you kidding,'" said Volpe.

Volpe now lives with four stents and must take a variety of medications for life.

"I wish I had the guts to say I want to see a cardiologist earlier," said Volpe, a mother of two school-age children. "Being so young, I was afraid to say I'd like to see a cardiologist."

More, Volpe wishes she had taken better care of herself.

"That's the huge thing. I really wish that I had taken better care of myself. You always think you have time. I don't have to worry about that until I'm older, but you're back pedaling," she said. "Every time I get on the treadmill I think I don't feel like it but this is what I have to do."

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