Heart disease is the number one cause of death for women in the United States. Death from a heart attack kills one in every four women, often because important signs are missed by victims and doctors.
The Silent Killer in Women
Although women have a high risk of heart attacks, many women do not recognize their symptoms. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, only 54% of women realize that cardiac disease is the number one killer for American women. Men and women both have high-risk factors for cardiac disease, but women are more likely to suffer heart attacks and strokes, as well as congestive heart failure, chronic kidney and lung disease, and diabetes.
Heart attacks in women are referred to as the silent killer because signs and symptoms are often missed by victims and doctors. Women are more likely to experience a “silent” heart attack or report unusual symptoms that are mistaken for signs of other medical illnesses. Although many heart attacks begin with sudden chest pains or feelings of tightness and pressure in the chest, there are less obvious symptoms that also signal a heart attack, especially in women:
- Shortness of breath
- Sleep disturbances
- Indigestion or gas-like pains
- Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Pain in one or both arms
Health research shows that women may experience symptoms of a heart attack for several weeks prior to the event. Symptoms may be constant or come and go. They may disrupt normal sleep patterns causing difficulty getting to sleep, waking during the night, and fatigue despite getting adequate sleep.
Abnormal excessive sweating is also a common heart attack symptom in women. Feelings of cold and clammy skin can be an indicator of heart problems. Many women who have heart attacks report feeling weak or shaky, a common acute symptom of heart attacks in females. This weakness or shaking is often accompanied by dizziness, fainting, and anxiety.
As the name suggests, a silent heart attack presents no symptoms, minimal symptoms, or symptoms that are not recognized by the victim. However, like any other heart attack, a silent heart attack temporarily or permanently blocks blood flow to a section of the heart causing damage to arteries and muscles. It is vital for women who experience symptoms to seek help immediately. A heart attack can be fatal, regardless of the severity of symptoms.
Missing the Warning Signs
Since the warning signs of heart attacks in women are less obvious than they are in men, they are often overlooked or misdiagnosed by medical professionals. Women who have silent heart attacks are likely to have subtle, non-specific symptoms that can relate to a number of medical conditions. Medical malpractice lawyers see cases where women report flu-like symptoms, muscle strains, dizziness, and extreme fatigue to their doctors which turn out to be heart attacks. Without proper diagnosis, these symptoms are often blamed on other health problems. If an EKG or MRI is done, doctors often see signs that the patient suffered a heart attack weeks or months prior to their visit, without even realizing it.
Recent studies show that 50% of doctors are missing the warning signs. The Circulation Medical Journal reports research studies on 2,009 women between ages 18 and 55 who were admitted to U.S. hospitals for heart attacks. Researchers conducted interviews to find out which symptoms women had before their hospital admittance, what they thought symptoms were related to, and if they had prior visits with a physician. Approximately 62% of women presented with three or more symptoms not related to chest pains, and 53% of women said their doctors did not think symptoms were heart-related.
Heart Attack Misdiagnosis
Physicians should not be overlooking less obvious symptoms of heart attacks in women. Misdiagnosis of a heart attack can lead to severe artery damage, future heart attacks, and death. When a heart attack happens, getting to the hospital quickly is essential because medical treatments for opening clogged arteries work best within the first hour after a heart attack begins. If a patient suffers a heart attack due to misdiagnosis, he/she can file a lawsuit based on negligence with a medical malpractice lawyer. If the heart attack results in the death of the patient, family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit for damages.
Many heart attack victims, especially women and young adults, are misdiagnosed because they do not fit the profile that medical professionals expect. Although heart attacks are common medical emergencies, many are misdiagnosed. When a heart attack is quickly diagnosed and treated, most patients recover successfully and lead a normal life. If left untreated, a heart attack can result in permanent disability or death. When the warning signs are missed, heart attack victims run a very high risk of losing their lives.