Too often, people mistake heart attacks as medical conditions that only threaten men. However, according to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer of women causing 1 in 3 deaths each year, with an average rate of one death per minute. Also, heart disease kills more women than all kinds of cancer combined. For these reasons, it is essential that women know the warning signs of a heart attack as they are often different from what men experience.
“It is said that medical text books were written about white males. Latest studies have found that women in fact have different clinical presentation to males when they have heart attacks,” said Dr. Michael Gutman, Medical Director of New England Urgent Care Centers. “Up to 70% of women complain of flu like illness and do not report chest pain when they have their first heart attack.”
Also, unlike men, who tend to complain of chest pain when they are having heart attacks, women often describe, indigestion, nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, anxiety and cold sweats as symptoms. Nearly two-thirds of the deaths in women with heart attacks are in those that did not complain of chest pain- this was the case of Janet Picerno of New Britain who died suddenly on New Year’s Day this year.
“She started to feel ill a few days after Christmas, primarily suffering from diarrhea,” said her husband, Richard Picerno. “Neither she nor I would have ever guessed she was suffering a heart attack.”
Picerno did go to the emergency room a couple days into her sickness where she learned she’d had a heart attack. She was stabilized, underwent angioplasty to open other clogged vessels, and while in the hospital awaiting further surgery, her heart gave out and claimed her life. She was 70 years old.
“It was a total shock and still is,” said her husband. “She went from a vibrant life spent enjoying her grandchildren and singing in the church choir to suddenly being gone.”
Also, in the case of women, the risk of heart disease is correlated with age. Premenopausal women enjoy some protection by the hormones in their system at that stage of their life. However, once post-menopausal, that protection, even with hormone replacement therapy is no longer there and the incidence of heart disease increases dramatically.
Some women are at risk for a heart attack simply based on their genes. Others are in elevated danger because of lifestyle choices such as smoking, being overweight and sedentary. The best way to combat heart disease is by leading a healthy life style. Diet should be low in animal fats. Regular exercise has been shown to decrease the incidence of heart disease.
“Important to note- weekend warriors are more likely to have a heart attack when they are exercising heavily,” said Dr. Gutman. “So start slow and be consistent.”
Once you have had established coronary heart disease, it is prudent to have a cardiologist who knows you and your illness well. In the event you think you may be suffering a heart attack, call 911 and get transported by ambulance preferably to the nearest Emergency Department at a hospital that has cardiac catheterization capabilities. However, if you are having symptoms and you are not sure whether they are of significance it is very reasonable to go to a Certified Urgent Care center to make the determination of heart disease versus some other problem. Over 97% of patients with chest pain do not have the type of heart attacks that require immediate transfer to the cardiac catheter lab.
February 1st is the American Heart Association’s National Wear Red Day. It serves as a reminder about the risks of heart disease to women and an opportunity to raise funds for educational programs.
“My wife will be forever missed,” adds Picerno. “However, I hope sharing her story can at least help save other lives.”
New England Urgent Care is one of only five Certified Urgent Care Centers in all of Connecticut. This is notable, as so few centers are able to obtain this very strict designation.
New England Urgent Care is centrally located in West Hartford, Simsbury and Enfield. The clinics are staffed with licensed emergency medical professionals and are open evenings and weekends, 365 days a year. Also, unlike inflated emergency room copays and charges, the co-pay or patient responsibility deductible charge at New England Urgent Care is a fraction of the ER’s. New England Urgent Care is equipped with X-ray machines, can administer IV fluids, and sutures. The center is also knowledgeable in splinting and later casting, if necessary. Also, for patients suffering such injuries, the centers are fully stocked with splints, crutches, walkers and canes. To learn more visit: www.urgentcarenewengland.com.