Women's heart symptoms overlooked

More than two-thirds of women in the Gulf region had high blood pressure before having a heart attack or a serious heart problem, compared to less than half of men, a survey reveals.

ABU DHABI // More than two-thirds of women in the Gulf region had high blood pressure before having a heart attack or a serious heart problem, compared to less than half of men, a study published in the American Journal of Cardiology has shown. The study looked at 8,166 men and women who were hospitalised for acute coronary syndrome which includes heart attacks in six Middle East countries: the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Yemen.

It found that 70 per cent of the women had previously shown high blood pressure, compared to 43 per cent of the men. They were also 19 per cent more likely to have diabetes, which affected 36 per cent of men. The study was based on information compiled from the Gulf Registry of Acute Coronary Events, which was completed in 2007. Unlike men, who tend to suffer from classic warning signs including chest and arm pain, women's symptoms are often much less clear, said Dr Wael al Mahmeed, the president of the Emirates Cardiac Society and one of the authors of the study.

Doctors often mistake women's complaints and treat their symptoms instead of looking for an underlying problem, he said, explaining that the delay in care can damage the heart and lead to failure. "Physicians need to think more about heart disease in women, especially if they have hypertension, diabetes or high cholesterol, even if they don't come in with the classic symptoms." Although they are often more worried about cancer, women are seven times more likely to die from heart disease, he said. Women have more risk factors when they have heart attacks, including hypertension, high lipids and more diabetes. "They are sicker when they come with a heart attack," Dr al Mahmeed said.

While women are often at greater risk, the treatments provided for them are often less aggressive than the regimen offered to male patients. Part of the problem lies with the doctors, who often fail to see the seriousness of the complaint. "We always take women lightly," said Dr Eman al Hatou, a cardiologist at Dubai Hospital. Even when their complaints are taken seriously, many refuse the treatment suggested by the cardiologist. Women are less likely to agree to heart surgery, and many do not take medicine as advised.

"Women are getting treated later, they're getting less treatment and it is less effective," said Dr al Mahmeed. "Time is of the essence. Men suffer from more heart attacks than women, but women are more likely to die." amcmeans@thenational.ae