Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Sexes respond differently to heart attack symptoms

Irishmen are seven times more likely than Irish women to drive themselves to hospital while having a heart attack, according to according to a report in The Irish Times (premium content) by its Medical Correspondent, Dr Muiris Houston, on new research.The study also found that it took women five times as long as men to go to an emergency department after their symptoms first started.

Researchers from the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Trinity College Dublin looked at 890 patients admitted to six Dublin teaching hospitals with a confirmed heart attack.Some 50 per cent of people experiencing a heart attack will die before they reach hospital with the survival of the remaining half dependant on seeking medical help quickly, researchers found.The research, published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, found it took women an average of 14 hours to get to hospital after the initial symptoms of a heart attack began, compared with just 2.8 hours for men.

Those who referred themselves to hospital experienced the shortest delays; patients referred by their GPs took on average five hours to get to hospital compared with 1.7 hours for those who self-referred.Patients with private medical insurance experienced shorter delays in getting to hospital. It took this group 1.7 hours to reach a casualty department while those with medical cards had an average delay of 2.4 hours.

Some 7 per cent of men and 1 per cent of women drove themselves to hospital, despite having chest pain or other serious symptoms. Many said they were too embarrassed to go in an ambulance or that ambulances should be used for more urgent cases.

Author Dr Sharon O'Donnell said: "Driving during a heart attack is obviously extremely dangerous for both the driver and the general public."People who drove themselves to hospital said they did it because it was the quickest way to get to the hospital, they felt well enough to make the journey, and they would have pulled over if necessary."However, she noted that many patients felt they were close to collapse when they arrived in the casualty department.

Commenting on the longer times it took women to get to hospital compared with men, Dr O'Donnell said a previous paper by the same researchers found that women with heart attacks waited longer than men to be admitted and treated."This means that women not only took longer to be treated, they also took considerably longer to get there in the first place. Prompt treatment is essential in heart attacks and these delays mean that women are more likely to suffer complications."

Asked why this might be, she said: "Women do not see themselves as heart attack victims. While men typically get sudden chest pain radiating down the left arm, women may get symptoms such as nausea, fatigue and shortness of breath."Dr O'Donnell said the overall message from the research was "no matter what your gender, if you suspect you are having a heart attack, take an aspirin and an ambulance".

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