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Dr. Daryl Jacobs, St. Luke's Hospital

Women need to make their own heart health a priority

Women with chest pain are more likely than men to wait more than a day to receive care, according to a recent study by the American Heart Association.

The study also revealed that women were less likely to talk about heart disease with their primary care physicians and that nearly 60 percent of women did not believe their symptoms were heart-related.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for women. In addition, two-thirds of women who experience a heart attack will never make a full recovery.

Women might not even realize they are experiencing a heart attack. Some common symptoms for women are unusual fatigue, shortness of breath, weakness/inability to perform daily activities, nausea, sleep disturbances and indigestion. Some other warning signs are often ignored and erroneously considered "non-cardiac" such as a burning sensation in the back, arms, shoulders or teeth. Actually, any intense symptom that is above the waist should be taken seriously as a possible heart attack.

During a heart attack, blocked coronary arteries prevent blood from reaching oxygen-starved heart muscle. The first step a woman should take if she's experiencing a heart attack is to call 911 and then chew on an aspirin. Aspirin can improve the chance of survival by reducing the size of the clot, if present, in the coronary artery.

By calling 911, assessment can begin immediately on the way to the hospital. The EMS crew can alert the hospital's cardiac team so it can begin treatment to open the blocked artery that is causing the heart attack as soon as you arrive at the hospital.

It is also important to remember to never drive yourself to the emergency room. You will lose valuable care that you would have received by the EMS crew, and driving yourself also puts other drivers at risk.

Women must remember to never take a wait-and-see approach to a possible heart attack. The longer a woman waits, the more damage a heart attack can cause.

Dr. Daryl Jacobs is a board-certified interventional cardiologist at St. Luke's Hospital.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on February 21, 2013.