A nurse prints out an EKG monitor reading in an emergency room at a hospital.
Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images
Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Why women having heart attacks wait longer to seek help than men

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. However, women tend to wait longer than men to seek help for heart attacks, according to a new report. 

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Researchers from Triemli Hospital in Switzerland recently conducted a study, published in the European Heart Journal, to explore changes in patient delay, which the authors defined as “the time from symptom onset to contact with a hospital, emergency medical service, or general practitioner.”

To do so, they examined 4,360 adults who had a heart attack between 2000 and 2016. They determined how long men and women waited to get help for heart attack symptoms. They also observed system delays, which was defined as the amount of time it took doctors to treat patients. 

>> Related: Study: Women receive worse care than men for heart attacks

After analyzing the results, they found women and men had equal reductions in system delays over the 16-year period. 

“We found no gender difference in the timely delivery of care by health professionals, with both men and women receiving a stent more quickly after contacting the medical services than they did in the past,” co-author Matthias Meyer said in a statement

On the other hand, patient delay decreased among men but not among women. They discovered women wait approximately 37 minutes longer than men before contacting medical services. 

“Women having a heart attack seem to be less likely than men to attribute their symptoms to a condition that requires urgent treatment,” Meyer said.

>> Related: Women more likely to survive heart attacks with female doctors, massive review finds

In fact, the team noted women can experience different heart attack symptoms than men. 

“Women and men have a similar amount of pain during a heart attack, but the location may be different,” Meyer explained. “People with pain in the chest and left arm are more likely to think it's a heart attack, and these are usual symptoms for men. Women often have back, shoulder, or stomach pain.”

Unfortunately, they believe the patient delays among women contributed to a higher in-hospital mortality rate. For women, it was 5.9 percent and 4.5 percent for men.

>> Related: This body type can increase heart attack risk among women, study says

Every minute counts when you have a heart attack,” Meyer concluded. “Look out for moderate to severe discomfort including pain in the chest, throat, neck, back, stomach or shoulders that lasts for more than 15 minutes. It is often accompanied by nausea, cold sweat, weakness, shortness of breath, or fear.”

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