Just in time for Heart Month, a Nursing professor at Brock University says women are more likely than men to experience certain early signals of a heart attack — and that knowing how to identify them could save their lives.
Sheila O’Keefe-McCarthy has received a $74,938 grant from the Women’s College Research Institute’s Women’s Xchange to help patients and health care professionals become more educated about these early indicators.
We are finding that women are more likely to report a greater number of symptoms compared to men
She says there are specific warning signs, or prodromal symptoms, that patients with Acute Coronary Syndrome can experience before a cardiac event happens, and recognizing them means a patient can get medical attention before a heart attack hits.
“We are finding that women are more likely to report a greater number of symptoms compared to men, such as more chest pain, greater prodromal fatigue, sleep disturbances, anxiety and headaches, says O’Keefe-McCarthy. “This means we really need to take notice of the kinds of symptoms patients are presenting with.”
By monitoring what is happening in the weeks and months leading up to the actual heart attack, she believes clinicians will be better able to screen for symptoms indicative of developing obstructive heart disease.
The Women’s Xchange initiative supports grassroots research projects across Ontario, and the Brock professor’s project will develop a multi-media education strategy geared toward women that focuses on cardiac-related early warning signs.
“It’s designed to be an educational intervention that women with cardiac disease and their health care professionals will be able to utilize, but since my research program is focused on men and women, the tools will be transferrable,” says O’Keefe-McCarthy.
She also developed partnerships with organizations including Heart Niagara, the Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada and the Canadian Council of Cardiovascular Nurses to help support knowledge exchange in the community.
O’Keefe-McCarthy’s work has a deeply personal inspiration behind it, having lost her mother, sister and father-in-law to cardiovascular disease.
“They all experienced terrible pain, unusual fatigue and escalating anxiety prior to their cardiac events,” she says.
“I am personally and professionally committed to improving the health outcomes of those suffering from heart conditions by finding new and innovative ways to respond to prodromal symptoms and cardiac pain suffered during the first hours of a heart attack.”