Heart Attack Can Have Serious Health Effects

Someone like the Roger Sterling character from the popular television series Mad Men, who had two heart attack in season 1? While Mad Men was set in the 1960s, popular culture continues to repeat this stereotype. Can you think of any women in news reports, magazines, literary fiction, television drama or film who have been depicted having a heart attack or with any other symptoms of heart disease?

If not, this is hardly surprising. Several studies over the past decades have shown the popular media tend to pay little attention to women’s experiences of heart disease compared with men’s. That can have serious consequences. Women may fail to recognize they’re at risk of heart disease or don’t recognize they’re having a heart attack because their experiences don’t match what’s most commonly portrayed.

Heart attack victim

A review of studies analyse how heart disease was portray in North American popular media and public health campaigns. It found a white man in a well-paid professional job (the Roger Sterling type) was represent as the typical person at risk from or already dealing with heart disease. Even when the media cover women’s experiences of heart disease; the study show there was a distinctive approach. North American popular media often portray women at risk as white, middle-aged and of high socioeconomic status.

The gendered nature of media portrayal of heart disease can have serious health effects. Epidemiological research shows cardiovascular disease; so is a leading cause of death for women in wealthy countries such as the U.S., where it is number one for women and Australia, where it is number two for women. Yet, media coverage often fails to acknowledge these statistics. As a result, women and health care; which providers can neglect the warning signs of heart disease. This can lead to lower quality care; poorer health outcomes and higher rates of potentially avoidable deaths.

A recent Australian study show women and people aged under 45 years were more likely; to be under treat for their heart disease symptoms. Women were less likely than men to be prescribe the recommend medications; have blood test for lipids (fats), or have their body mass or waist measure. A spokesperson for the Heart Foundation; which fund the study, suggest one reason is these demographic groups tend not to fit the “heart attack victim” stereotype; also media representation of heart attacks play a role in reinforcing those stereotypes.

Experiences of illness

The public generates masses of information about their experiences of illness, disease and surgery on blogs and social media sites. But hardly any research has look at what kinds of information; about heart disease is share on these platforms. My research on Australian women’s use of digital health technologies found women often use Facebook groups to find and share health and medical information. Many heart disease or heart failure support groups operate on this platform, some of which have thousands of members.

The Heart Foundation has drawn attention to the importance of Australian women realizing they may be at risk from heart disease for some time now. A special section of its website provides important information target at Australian women about what it’s like for women to experience heart attacks and other symptoms of heart disease. It also outlines risk factors for women and warning signs.

Initiatives direct at women by organizations such as the Heart Foundation and the Women’s Heart Alliance, as well as social media groups such as these Facebook communities; so have made a start on challenging the wealthy male face of heart disease. Other forms of popular culture continue to lag well behind. It’s time characters other than the Roger Sterling alpha male; so including not only women but men from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, are recognize as being at risk from heart disease too.