After she experienced a medical emergency of her own, one woman wants to remind everyone how heart attacks can differ between the genders.
And yet the prevailing – incorrect –stereotype is that it is a “man’s disease”, as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention put it. Although men and women die of heart disease at the same rate, the symptoms of a heart attack slightly different between the genders. In fact, almost two thirds of women who die of sudden heart disease will experience no symptoms at all.
One woman is on a mission to educate everyone about the symptoms of a heart attack, after suffering one on Sunday, despite not feeling any chest pain. Instead, she had burning and aching pain in her upper back, shoulder blades and eventually down both arms. “I actually thought it was muscle strain,” she wrote. “It wasn’t until I broke into drenching sweat & started vomiting that I called 911.”
In the viral Twitter thread, which has received more than 24,000 retweets so far, the woman added that she is “older” and a nurse, but she still missed the symptoms because “it wasn’t what you read in pamphlets.”
The heart attack came after a week spent helping her neighbor “clean out her barn” and driving six hours to help her mother in another state. “I thought I strained some muscles,” the woman notes. She took some painkillers and “put a warm pack on my shoulders. I almost died because I didn’t call it chest pain… I thought I should go to a doctor but I had to help my mom who is 90 and I’d just tough it out because it wasn’t real bad.”
According to the Cleveland Health Clinic, women are less likely to have chest pain and more likely to have “subtler” symptoms for three or four weeks before a heart attack. “This includes uncharacteristic tiredness, especially after simple activities and shortness of breath and sweating, particularly without significant exertion or if the shortness of breath worsens while lying down and improves while sitting up. The clinic also noted pain in the neck, back, jaw and both arms as a symptom that should raise the alarm for women.
But the viral Twitter thread also hit upon a worrying trend among women: that they are more likely than men to suffer through chronic pain without seeking medical help.
Called the “health gap”, the idea is that the medical system is geared towards solving the problems of men rather than women. Take, for example, the fact that even though 70% of chronic pain sufferers are female, 80% of the studies are conducted on men (mice and humans). Or that women having heart attacks are more likely to be misdiagnosed and even discharged from hospital – seven times more likely, in fact – because understandings of heart attacks are based on the male symptoms of heart attacks and not the female ones.
Let this Twitter thread serve as a reminder not to downplay your health issues.
“Women, don’t ignore pain,” former congressional candidate Tamara Harris replied to the thread. “If you are suffering with prolonged pain or discomfort, call a doctor. Women are so used to trudging on in the face of physical pain but ignoring it can be lethal.”