Take heart: Women call an ambulance for husbands but not themselves

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

It's time for women to take care of themselves, too. That's the clear message researchers are hoping to convey, after two studies found that women will call an ambulance for the men in their lives, their husbands, fathers and brothers, when they experience heart attack symptoms, but not for themselves.

Presented at the Acute Cardiovascular Care 2019's European Society of Cardiology (ESC) congress, the findings come ahead of International Women's day March 8, in line with this year's theme "Balance for Better."

"Very often women run the house, send children to school, and prepare for family celebrations," said researcher Professor Mariusz Gąsior. "We hear over and over again that these responsibilities delay women from calling an ambulance if they experience symptoms of a heart attack."

The warning signs of heart attack for women.
The warning signs of heart attack for women. Photo: Heart Foundation/Facebook

"In addition to running the household, women make sure that male relatives receive urgent medical help when needed. It is time for women to take care of themselves too," explains Professor Marek Gierlotka.

The results come from an analysis of the Polish Registry of Acute Coronary Syndromes. The registry consisted of a total of 7,582 patients who experienced a serious type of heart attack - an ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) - during which the the coronary artery is completely blocked and a large part of the heart muscle is unable to receive blood.

The team found that while 45 per cent of patients were treated in the recommended time frame - (within 90 minutes of diagnosis) they were less often women.

"One of the reasons women are less likely than men to be treated within the recommended time period is because they take longer to call an ambulance when they have symptoms -- this is especially true for younger women,' said Professor Gąsior. In addition, ECG results for younger women are less often sent to the heart attack centre, which is recommended to speed up treatment."

According to Dr Gierlotka more efforts are needed to improve what he calls the "logistics of pre-hospital heart attack care," in young women.

"Greater awareness should be promoted among medical staff and the general public that women, even young women, also have heart attacks," he says. "Women are more likely to have atypical signs and symptoms, which may contribute to a delay in calling for medical assistance."


Last year, a study published in European Heart Journal: Acute Cardiovascular Care, found that women wait approximately 37 minutes longer than men before contacting emergency services. "Women having a heart attack seem to be less likely than men to attribute their symptoms to a condition that requires urgent treatment," said author Dr Matthias Meyer at the time, noting that women may wait longer due to the myth that heart attacks usually occur in men and because pain in the chest and left arm are the best known symptoms. 

However, according to the Heart Foundation, women may experience symptoms in their jaw, neck, back, shoulders, arms and chest. In addition, they may:
  • feel dizzy or light-headed.
  • break out in a cold sweat.
  • feel nauseous or generally unwell.
  • find it difficult to breathe or take a deep breath due to a tight or constricted feeling in your chest.


Rest immediately.


Tell someone how you feel.

If you take angina medicine:

  • Take a dose of your medicine
  • Wait 5 minutes.
  • Still have symptoms? Take another dose of your medicine.
  • Wait 5 minutes.

Call 000

Call 000 if your symptoms are severe, getting worse or have lasted for 10 minutes. 

  • Ask for an ambulance
  • Don't hang up
  • Wait for the operator's instructions.

While on the phone, chew 300mg aspirin, unless you have an allergy to aspirin or if your doctor has told you not to take it.

For more information, visit the Heart Foundation