Female heart attack victims unlikely to recognise symptoms: Survey

Cardiologist Goh Ping Ping giving her opening address at the Go Red For Women Luncheon on March 8, 2019. She said that "cardiovascular disease has been historically perceived as a man's disease, which is a misconception".
Cardiologist Goh Ping Ping giving her opening address at the Go Red For Women Luncheon on March 8, 2019. She said that "cardiovascular disease has been historically perceived as a man's disease, which is a misconception".PHOTO: SINGAPORE HEART FOUNDATION

SINGAPORE - A woman who suffers a heart attack may end up dismissing it as something else because she has no clue the symptoms show up differently in men and women, a heart health survey conducted by insurance company Manulife shows.

Although heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in Singapore, eight in 10 of them are not aware that men and women can experience different heart attack symptoms.

Symptoms more commonly seen in women can include shortness of breath, jaw pain, back pain, nausea and lightheadedness.

The results of the survey, which polled 500 Singaporean men and women between the ages of 21 and 64, were released on International Women's Day on Friday (March 8) at the Go Red For Women Luncheon 2019 organised by the Singapore Heart Foundation.

The Go Red For Women campaign is part of an international movement led by the American Heart Association and the World Heart Federation.

It aims to equip women with knowledge to reduce their risks of heart disease and stroke.

Cardiologist Goh Ping Ping, who chairs the Go Red For Women campaign in Singapore, said: "Cardiovascular disease has been historically perceived as a man's disease, which is a misconception."

 

She said women are more likely to experience a heart attack later in life compared to men, usually after menopause, as lower oestrogen levels are a factor in increased heart attack risk.

 

Women who have had a heart attack also tend to wait longer before seeking medical treatment due to the subtler symptoms, Dr Goh added.

Speaking at the event at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre, Assistant Professor Chan Wan Xian, a senior consultant at the National University Heart Centre, Singapore, said that while heart disease is commonly the result of an obstruction in the blood vessels, women are twice as likely as men to suffer from non-obstructive heart disease.

One example is takotsubo cardiomyopathy, also known as broken heart syndrome.

Prof Chan said: "This condition is related to acute stress or emotional shock, possibly due to a surge in adrenaline, and can lead to heart failure.

"About 90 per cent of these cases are post-menopausal women."

She added that heart disease kills about six times as many women in Singapore as breast cancer.

The survey found that close to half of the respondents rated their own knowledge of heart disease as "poor" or "very poor".

Despite this, half thought they were personally at "little" or "no risk" of heart disease.

Three in five said they had never discussed heart health issues with anyone. Nearly one in five thought a heart attack only affects the elderly.

Half of the respondents said they had experienced symptoms that made them think something might be wrong with their hearts, but 65 per cent of them did not seek medical attention as they assumed it was only temporary.

At the same event, Manulife launched a video campaign called Stop the Drama.

The video features veteran Singaporean actor Lim Kay Tong teaching young actors how to portray heart attack symptoms more realistically as most Singaporeans are only familiar with symptoms seen in TV shows and movies, like crushing chest pains and collapsing.

Dr Khoo Kah Siang, chief executive of Manulife, said: "In the survey, we found that eight in 10 respondents only recognise chest pain as a key heart attack symptom.

"Other early symptoms, such as stomach discomfort, fatigue, jaw pain or nausea, were only identified by a minority.

"The solution to raise awareness about these information gaps was simple - literally showing people that the typical dramatic heart attack we see on television and in movies isn't representative of what heart attacks really look like."

The video will be shared on Manulife's website at www.manulife.com.sg/stopthedrama/ and on its Facebook page and YouTube channel.