Heart Disease is Deadlier for Women
New report suggests we're ignoring signs and dismissing symptoms. Doctors may be, too.
We’ve known for years that women experience different symptoms of heart disease than men do. But women, and the health professionals who treat them, don’t appear to be getting the message.
The consequences have been deadly.
Big money has been poured into such marketing campaigns as Go Red for Women, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Wise Women program and The Heart Truth (a campaign by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to educate women on their risks for heart disease). Yet, heart attacks remain a leading cause of death for men and women.
And women remain largely unaware of their risk, according to a new report.
The American Heart Association this week is addressing the issue, calling for better research and more awareness that heart attacks in women can have different causes and risks than for men.
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Nearly 50,000 women died from heart attacks in 2014, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. Heart attacks happen when our arteries become partially or totally blocked, reducing blood flow and damaging the heart muscle.
But in certain women, especially younger ones, plaque build-up doesn’t bulge as much into the artery as it does for men, making it less conspicuous and harder for doctors to diagnose on routine tests, the AHA finds. It can still form a blood clot and lead to a heart attack.
In cases where the plaque is less obstructive, stents may not be as effective. The AHA wants more research to dig into alternative treatments, such as suctioning out a clot or delivering clot-busting medication directly to the clot.
The authors of the study also note that more women have complications or die within five years after a first heart attack.
Some other important differences between men and women when it comes to heart attack:
1: Both women and men often feel chest pain, but women may experience uncommon symptoms such as back, arm, neck or jaw pain, or have nausea, weakness and a sense of dread.
2: Women wait longer to get treated — the median delay is about 54 hours in women and 16 hours in men.
3: Both sexes share heart attack risk factors, but Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure are more potent for women.
4: Women who survive a heart attack are more likely to have complications in the hospital such as shock, bleeding or heart failure. The study found that some physicians do not follow medical guidelines, and some women do not take prescribed medications or participate in cardiac rehabilitation, which can lead to long-term complications.
5: Depressed women have a 50 percent higher risk of heart attack. It’s unclear how depression raises risk, but depressed patients may be less likely to follow a healthy lifestyle.
6: Black women have more heart attacks than white women and are less likely to be referred for cardiac catheterizations or bypass surgery, important treatments for restoring blood flow to coronary arteries.
7: Black and Hispanic women are more likely to have heart-related risk factors such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.
Because women represent only about a fifth of the participants in cardiovascular-disease clinical trials, there is a call for more women to get involved, and for researchers to do what they can to include them in their work.
Know your risks, know the signs, and when you feel there is a problem, health experts say, call 911 and don’t be modest. Tell them bluntly, “I think I’m having a heart attack.”