Education is important for the prevention of all health conditions, but researchers found a particular need to teach women about the symptoms of heart attack. Heart attacks in women go unrecognized 30 to 55 percent of the time, because the symptoms are different from those experienced by men. As a result, women may miss the warning signs of a more serious heart attack or fail to get medical treatment after the attack has occurred.
Researchers from Binghamton University and SUNY Upstate Medical University saw this issue as an opportunity to develop an educational program for women about the unique symptoms they may experience during or before a heart attack so they can get appropriate treatment.
The researchers created a project called "Matters of Your Heart" with the ultimate goal of shortening women's time to treatment for heart conditions. It aims to educate women about heart attack symptoms and explain indicators that an attack may be on its way.
The program seems to be working, at least in preliminary trials. The researchers worked with 141 post-menopausal women to test their program, and found that it increased knowledge. One researcher, professor Pamela Stewart Fahs, professor of nursing and Decker Chair in Rural Nursing at Binghamton University, pointed out that this is the first step to a change in behavior.
While having knowledge does not necessarily change a woman's behavior, it is much more likely to make a difference than having no information, she explained.
"The more aware you are of the signs and symptoms, and the more aware you are of the risk of heart disease for women, the better able you are be proactive," Stewart Fahs said.
Delaying or failing to get medical attention for a heart attack or precursor to an attack can be fatal to women. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) women account for nearly half of all heart attack deaths, and heart disease is the number one killer of both sexes. However, women are less likely than men to believe they are having a heart attack - either because they think they are at a lower risk or because the symptoms are not typical.
The NHLBI reports that women may experience pain or discomfort in the center of the chest, as well as pain in other areas of the upper body - arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach. Shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea or light-headedness may also occur.