As I’m sure many of you have already seen, recent public health campaigns are working towards enhancing knowledge of how women specifically experience heart attack symptoms. Up until this point, public health campaigns have focused largely on how heart attack symptoms manifest in men, as scientific research more often involves men as participants and thus researchers tend to simply generalize findings from research with male participants to the rest of the population (i.e. women). As a result of such trends, women have remained significantly under informed in terms of how heart attack symptoms are likely to manifest themselves. Thus, many women who experience these symptoms have tended to mislabel or minimize them and have delayed seeking medical treatment because they were unsure as to whether or not their symptoms were serious enough to warrant a visit to the hospital. Significant delays in obtaining medical treatment can often mean that a woman’s life is put at serious risk or lost completely. It is my hypothesis that this combination of a lack of accurate information on symptoms, pressures to keep things running smoothly and doing so with an appearance of ‘perfection,’ and stereotypes of women as overly emotional, dramatic, and irrational incentivize women to wait to seek medical attention until they essentially cannot physically function and are certain something is terribly wrong (meaning that help is often sought too late).
The Surrey Pain and Wellness Clinic is among those who are trying to increase awareness of how heart attack symptoms manifest in women, and have on their website a video which very effectively depicts how these symptoms look and feel for women in the context of their everyday lives. Although this video does a great job educating women (and others in their lives) to recognize when their health is in jeopardy and seek medical attention, in my opinion the campaign misses the boat on informing women about preventative measures to take in order to minimize the likelihood of experiencing a heart attack in the first place (versus reactive measures to take once a heart attack is imminent).