If you compared a man's heart with a woman's, they'd probably look the same. Each would have all the usual nuts and bolts of a beating heart — chambers, veins, arteries, valves. But when it comes to heart trouble, those similarities start to fade, especially for heart attacks and their telltale sign: troponin.
Women experience different heart attack symptoms than men do. While both men and women experience chest pain, women may also present symptoms such as jaw, neck, back or stomach pain, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, nausea and cold sweats. Autoimmune diseases and a history of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and hypertension can also increase risk. In India, obesity is among the major causes of cardiovascular diseases in women, according to the Journal of Clinical and Preventative Cardiology.
But, there's another factor to consider: Women have less troponin, a protein found in heart muscle that's released into the bloodstream when the heart is damaged. A 2014 study published in Pathology found that men have four times as much as women do. This difference has made it historically harder for doctors to diagnose heart attacks in women.
So where does this leave half the population? For starters, women risk being sent home without treatment at all, even if they've had a heart attack. And if they do get treatment, it might be delayed or less aggressive.
Diagnosing heart attacks
When your heart muscle gets damaged during a heart attack, your body releases troponin. The more the heart is damaged, the more protein is released. Doctors measure the levels of this protein when they suspect a heart attack.
But because women don't produce nearly as much of the protein as men do, a standard heart-attack test often can't detect heart damage in women. And yet the detection test is routine and steers treatment decisions for both sexes.
Fortunately, technology from Abbott allows us to measure even lower levels of this red flag substance — and it's already seeing a lot of support in medical journals.
Enter the high sensitivie troponin test
The high sensitive troponin test developed by Abbott can help determine if someone is having a heart attack, and it's seen success in several countries. The high sensitive troponin test measures the amount of troponin in a patient's serum and plasma. Major academic journals have pointed to its benefits:
- A 2018 study published in JAMA Cardiology showed that the test can give results within 15 minutes and could facilitate earlier discharge of low-risk patients.
- A 2016 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found that the test can also detect whether mental or physical stress limits oxygen supply to the heart among people with coronary artery disease.
With this test, doctors can better detect heart damage due to heart attacks in women, leading to faster treatment that could save more women across the globe. The test is now available in Asian markets such as India.
Restoring balance for better heart health
For women like Jen Stevens, a single mom of three daughters in Edinburgh, Scotland, the test can be life-changing. While she blamed her chest pain on stress, doctors were able to use the test to diagnose a heart attack. Without it, Stevens might not have received lifesaving treatment — an alternative that is still unimaginable to her and her three girls. Today, she's back to living her best life — one with a new focus on self-care and health.
The hearts of men and women are as different as they are alike. But this new test could help restore balance when it comes to detecting heart attacks. When every second matters, women should have just as much of a fighting chance as men do.
With more tests like the high sensitive troponin, they finally can.
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