The study, which looked at 890 heart attack patients admitted to six major teaching hospitals in Dublin, Southern Ireland, also found that it took women five times as long as men to go to casualty departments after their symptoms first started. But only one per cent got behind the wheel and drove to the hospital.
"Driving during a heart attack is obviously extremely dangerous for both the driver and the general public" says lead author Sharon O'Donnell from the City's Trinity College.
"People who drove themselves to the hospital said they did it because it was the quickest way to get to the hospital, they felt well enough to make the journey and they would have pulled over if necessary.
"However, many also reported that they felt they were going to collapse when they arrived in the casualty department.
The average time it took women to get to hospital after the onset of initial symptoms was 14 hours, compared with 2.8 hours for men.
"Even when their symptoms got bad, it still took women 3.1 hours to get there, compared with 1.8 hours for men" points out Dr O'Donnell.
A previous paper by the team, on what happened to the same patients when they actually arrived at the Irish hospitals, found that women waited longer than men to be admitted and treated.
"This means that women not only took longer to be treated when they got to the hospital, they also took considerably longer to get there in the first case" says Dr O'Donnell. "Prompt treatment is essential in heart attacks and these delays mean that women are more likely to suffer complications."
Key findings from the home to hospital study - which comprised 277 women and 613 men - included:
- 49 per cent of women and 30 per cent of men were referred to the hospital by their family doctor in an average of five hours from the onset of initial symptoms.
- People who referred themselves took an average of 1.7 hours from experiencing initial symptoms to arriving at the casualty department.
- Only 63 per cent of women and 60 per cent of men travelled by ambulance. Many said they were too embarrassed to go in an ambulance or that they should be used for more urgent cases.
- Seven per cent of men and one per cent of women drove themselves to the hospital and a further four per cent of men and three per cent of women used public transport. 33 per cent of women and 29 per cent of men were driven to the hospital.
"It is essential that people are warned of the dangers of driving when they are obviously unwell and encouraged to call an ambulance immediately if they suspect they are having a heart attack" concludes Dr O'Donnell.
"And it's also time to challenge the image of the typical male heart attack victim.
"We are particularly concerned that women face much longer delays, both in the time it takes them to get to the hospital and in receiving treatment and being admitted when they arrive.
"Women need to be much more aware of the risks they face from heart attacks and the importance of seeking prompt treatment."
The team's previous paper, published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing in September 2005, also identified the need for greater awareness by healthcare staff of the risks women face.
It reported that it took 54 minutes longer for women to be admitted to coronary care units than men. Women also waited longer to be assessed and treated with aspirin and to receive reperfusion therapy, which restores blood flow to the heart.
Approximately 120 nurses working across the six coronary care units in Dublin, Southern Ireland, took part in the study, completing a 25-item questionnaire for each patient admitted during the one-year study.
Only patients who were admitted via the hospitals' casualty departments, who had a confirmed heart attack diagnosis and who were sent to the hospitals' coronary care units were included in the study.
The research was funded by Ireland's Health Research Board.
For further details or a press copy of the full paper contact Annette Whibley, Wizard Communications firstname.lastname@example.org
To interview lead author Sharon O'Donnell contact Sally-Anne Fisher, Trinity College on 353-608-3606 or email@example.com
Notes to editors