Haynes predicted that a successful campaign could save "hundreds if not thousands of lives." More women than men die within a month of suffering a heart attack, she said, citing unpublished data tabulated by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute that found a 28-day mortality rate for women after a heart attack was 14.6 percent, compared with 10.2 percent for men. "We think part of the reason is because they delay," Haynes said.
Not only do women hesitate to call 911, but even when emergency medical responders arrive at her house, some women will send them away. She may even take an aspirin to see if she feels better, because she's heard aspirin can be helpful. "If you're going to take an aspirin, you need to simultaneously call 911," Goldberg said.
Once women reach the ER, it takes a while for them to get diagnosed. "That's because nurses and doctors don't routinely ask about atypical symptoms," Mosca said. "There is not a standard way of actually asking these questions."
In addition, women often don't clearly spell out suspicious symptoms, and even when they do, some health professionals may not recognize them. Goldberg shared the story of one of her patients, who before she came to her had experienced major fatigue, and went from doctor to doctor. "Finally, an ophthalmologist sent her for a stress test, but the day of the stress test, she collapsed, was taken to the hospital and received stents."
Wyche, advocacy director for the Association of Black Cardiologists, said that although physicians have come a long way in recognizing women's cardiac symptoms, "a good portion of the woman's job is to advocate for themselves. In addition to knowing the symptoms, they should say, 'I want to make sure my symptoms are not related to a heart attack.'"
Call it women's intuition, albeit with an overlay of denial, but Mosca said that "in almost every anecdotal situation," involving heart attacks, "women know it's different and there's something wrong.
"The challenge is they're in denial and waiting for it to go away," she said. "They don't want to be embarrassed. We have to help women overcome the fear of being wrong, because that's a fatal mistake."