For months, patients have been neglecting the warning signs and waiting until the last minute to see the doctor. Postponing an appointment or a treatment increases the risk of suddenly destabilizing a cardiovascular disease, one that may not have been identified. Women are especially vulnerable to this higher risk because they tend to underestimate their symptoms. They still haven’t realized that they’re a prime target. They usually don’t get enough screening and even when they do, they don’t always benefit from structured follow-up since daily life takes precedence after a cardiovascular problem. The COVID-19 lockdown that kept many women at home may also push up the number of cardiovascular events. During lockdown, women have been more worried about their family’s health and their performance while working remotely. Sadly, many are exposed to isolation, social uncertainty or domestic stress and are in denial about the atypical cardiovascular warning symptoms. When they call 911, it’s often too late. Or they may refuse treatment so they can care for their loved ones, to the detriment of their own health. And those who have to work outside the home have major responsibilities in front line positions like doctors, nurses, nursing aids, cleaners, grocery store workers, etc. They have other things to worry about besides themselves. The risk is even higher since the symptoms of a heart attack in women are often atypical. Even under normal circumstances, this contributes to delays in treatment. If women feel symptoms such as pressure in their chest, nausea, shortness of breath during activity or persistent fatigue, they should call 911, especially if they have related risk factors like tobacco use, high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol. Don’t take the risk of allowing a heart attack to develop over several days—it will have irreversible consequences! Remember that there has been a sharp increase in heart attacks affecting young women in France: a 5% increase in hospitalizations for women aged 45 to 54 (BEH Santé Publique France, March 2016 http://beh.santepubliquefrance.fr/beh/2016/7-8/2016_7-8_1.html). This is due to harmful changes to their lifestyles with more smoking, stress, obesity and sedentary days.
Every minute counts when you’re having a heart attack! As soon as you experience symptoms, don’t wait to call 911, especially if you’re a woman who has major risk factors like tobacco use, high cholesterol, stress, hypertension or diabetes. The faster you get care—ideally less than three hours after symptoms start—the lighter the consequences will be after the heart attack.