heart-attack story shows just how much women’s symptoms are ignored

Tweets from @gwheezie about her heart attack are teaching women the importance of recognising their own pain

We think we’re well versed in the symptoms of a heart attack – a tight pain in the chest, shooting pains down your arm, dizziness. But there are other, less-talked-about symptoms that, unsurprisingly, are most commonly experienced by female heart-attack sufferers. Yesterday, one woman in America took to Twitter to tell her story of how her heart attack was nearly fatal, because she was unaware of these symptoms.

Following on from her initial tweet, @gwheezie explained that her heart attack manifested as a burning, aching pain across her upper back, shoulders and arms. As she explained, she had been experiencing this on and off for a couple of weeks, and doing things – cleaning out her neighbour’s barn, driving for six hours to visit and help her elderly mother – that could exacerbate her heart attack.

Despite her pain – and despite being a nurse herself – @gwheezie thought she had muscle strain and so didn’t visit a doctor until she broke into a sweat and vomited. Only then did she decide to ring an ambulance.According to the NHS website, women are less likely to experience any chest pain at all during a heart attack, while jaw and neck pain are also common in women. Post-menopausal women are also more likely to suffer from a heart attack than pre-menopausal women, as the hormones that help to prevent coronary heart disease change.

Sometimes, as is the case with @gwheezie, women are all too keen to dismiss their own pain as not serious, so as not to become a burden or a nuisance to an overstretched and underfunded healthcare system

Women’s pain is often ignored or downplayed by medical professionals, and gender bias in healthcare is rampant – even Selma Blair, a Hollywood actor supposedly with private healthcare at her disposal, had to wait 15 years for a diagnosis of MS. On average, it takes a woman in the UK seven-and-a-half years to obtain an endometriosis diagnosis. Sometimes, as is the case with @gwheezie, women are all too keen to dismiss their own pain as not serious, so as not to become a burden or a nuisance to an overstretched and underfunded healthcare system. And, sometimes, women avoid the doctor, because they feel they will be dismissed anyway.

According to the British Heart Foundation, women wait longer to call an ambulance when they have heart attacks, putting their lives at greater risk with each minute that passes by. But this Twitter thread proves how important it is for women to recognise – and act upon – their own pain. Moreover, it shows just how much work there is to do in educating everyone on how women’s symptoms differ from those experienced by men.

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