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Why Women Shouldn’t Wait to Get Their Cardiovascular Disease Symptoms Checked Out

The current COVID health crisis risks triggering an increase in the number of cardiovascular events women experience.

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Patients have stopped going to hospitals and clinics in the past few weeks. Yet chronic diseases haven’t gone away, and symptoms are still occurring. Patients are ignoring them and waiting until the last minute to see a doctor. Professor Claire Mounier-Vehier, cardiologist and head of the vascular medicine and hypertension department at the University Hospital of Lille sees it every day: “people with heart attack symptoms are waiting a day, even a week, before calling 911 but we know that we only have three hours to save the heart muscle!” She’s especially concerned about the period after lockdown lifts. “Patients who’ve gone without treatment for two months risk destabilizing their cardiovascular disease, which may not even have been identified. Risk factors linked to the lockdown include social isolation, a more sedentary lifestyle, more stress, diet changes and more smoking. All of this can have consequences that add up to significantly impact their health, leading to spikes in emergency department visits that we need to start anticipating now. We’ll also have to deal with cardiovascular situations that are much more complex to treat, that were diagnosed once complications had appeared. Women are especially exposed to this elevated risk of cardiovascular events 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 current COVID crisis that has kept many women at home may push up the number of cardiovascular events, says Prof. Claire Mounier-Vehier, MD. 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. They’ll be cared for in units that are separate from those with COVID patients, so there’s nothing to worry about. Don’t take the risk of allowing a heart attack to develop over several days—it will have irreversible consequences.” 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. The Women’s Cardiovascular Healthcare Foundation (Agir pour le Coeur des Femmes)Prof. Claire Mounier-Vehier, MD, has created the Women’s Cardiovascular Healthcare Foundation with business leader Thierry Drilhon to advocate for better cardiovascular disease treatment for women since eight out of every ten cases are preventable. The foundation’s sole focus is cardiovascular disease in women. The foundation will announce its goals and planned projects in May on International day of Action for Women’s Health. It will promote preventive medicine with a focus on developing an effective, supportive network of people-focused healthcare to eliminate preconceived ideas related to cardiovascular diseases in women.

 

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