2016 was already a pretty rough year even without it ending with the death of Carrie Fisher, aka Princess Leia, aka talented writer and mental health advocate. Fisher suffered from a heart attack during a flight and died in the hospital soon after.
It’s a sad story, but one that can be used as an opportunity to help others. Over 700,000 Americans suffer from heart attacks each year, and men and women can experience different symptoms during an attack. Why is this, and what are those different symptoms? And if you do suffer from a heart attack, what can that do to your insurance budget?
How heart attacks differ in men and women
Put simply, a heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is reduced or cut off. Arteries supplying blood to the heart accumulate plaque – a combination of fat, cholesterol, and other substances – and that plaque can rupture, causing a blood clot in the artery. This is what blocks the flow of the blood.
This is what usually happens with men. Heart attacks in women, though, can be a little subtler, resulting in "smaller, non-fatal heart attacks," according to Harvard Medical School. Instead of the plaque rupturing, it’s more likely to erode. This means that some women are less likely to pick up on the warning signs, making future heart attacks potentially more dangerous.
The differences between hearts themselves in men and women also play a role in how heart attacks affect the sexes. The right ventricle is smaller in women than in men, so if it loses its ability to pump blood effectively, it’s more likely that there will be a medical issue. Walls of branching arteries are also more likely to be more damaged in women.
Overall, this means that women can suffer from – and show symptoms of – heart attacks that differ from men, and it’s crucial to know the warning signs that you might not be looking for.
How heart attack symptoms differ in men and women
Most people will experience the signs of a "classic" heart attack: numbness in the left arm, chest pains, and so on – you might think it’s exaggerated when you see it on TV, but someone clutching their chest is often how it goes. It’s described as an elephant sitting on your chest. If you’re having a heart attack and this happens, you won’t second guess it.
But in one study, nearly half of women didn’t experience any chest pain during their heart attack. Because women can experience heart attacks in more subtle ways, they need to be on the lookout for other symptoms, too.
Heart attack symptoms in women won’t always be an elephant-on-chest scenario. Sometimes it will be a shortness of breath. Maybe it’s just feeling dizzy or lightheaded, like they’re about to faint. There could be pain in other places in the body, like the abdomen or jaw.
There are fewer heart studies done with women than men, and women are less likely to get the same level of treatment for heart conditions. If you’re a woman who thinks she might be suffering from a heart attack, don’t immediately write it off just because you’re not feeling the classic symptoms. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and you may catch something subtle but important by making a visit to the doctor instead of riding it out.
How a heart attack can affect your insurance
If you suffer from a heart attack, obviously the first thing you should do is make sure you get back on your feet, health-wise. But a heart attack can also affect your budget thanks to the impact it can have on your life and health insurance. It’s good to know this so you don’t have surprise financial information sprung on you while you’re recovering. That’s like being kicked while you’re down.
When you apply for life insurance, you’ll be asked questions about your past and current health. If you’ve experienced a heart attack in the past, be sure to disclose this information. It may raise your rates, but if the insurer finds out you misrepresented your health history, they can cancel your coverage.
Instead, be honest about your heart attack. Provide information on underlying causes, and be sure to say what treatments you’ve been taking since – even though chronic health conditions raise insurance rates, insurers are more likely to be lenient with applicants who are taking control of their conditions to prevent them from reoccurring.
In our life insurance carrier reviews, we’ve ranked each carrier on how well they work with applicants who have suffered from various chronic conditions. Every carrier we’ve reviewed is good at underwriting heart attack histories, meaning you can rest assured that they’ll work with you to get you the best rates even if you have suffered from a heart attack in the past.
At one point, a heart attack would have been classified as a pre-existing condition by health insurers – meaning the insurer could deny you coverage or charge you more. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, though, consumer protections have been put in place so health insurance consumers can’t be discriminated against for pre-existing conditions. Luckily, that means that you can’t be denied health insurance, or charged a higher premium, just because you had a heart attack.
If you do suffer from a heart attack, that likely means that you’ll need to use your health insurance. The type of insurance you have may determine the type and cost of healthcare you get. For example, your plan type will decide how much of your hospital bill you’ll have to pay before you’re covered by your insurance. If you’re thinking of footing the bill, consider this: As of 2013, costs for heart attack hospital stays ranged from just over $3,000 to nearly $93,000. Knowing your health insurance plan, and when your carrier’s coverage kicks in, is crucial in knowing how much you’ll have to pay. A high-deductible plan may knock out your healthcare budget in a single visit.
If you have an HMO plan, you’ll need a referral to see a specialist, and a cardiologist may fall under this umbrella. If you see this as jumping through hoops, it might be something you have to put up with in a worst case scenario. Keep that in mind when deciding what health insurance options are right for you.
Carrie Fisher may have passed too soon, but it was a stark reminder about the seriousness of heart-related health issues for everyone. By knowing the signs of a heart attack, you can get the help you need. By knowing how a heart attack affects your financial safety net, you can make sure you have the protection you need – for yourself and your loved ones.