Women With Heart Disease Face Deadlier Outcomes

Women die at higher rates and suffer more after diagnoses, American Heart Association says


Heart disease is the number one cause of death for women-and a lack of research could be the culprit.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) affects almost 7 million American women per year- and it is causing more deaths and complications for women than men, according to a statement from the American Heart Association (AHA).

"Most heart disease research is done in men, so how we categorize it is based on men. We need more science in women,"Dr. Laxmi Mehta, a cardiologist at the Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center in Columbus and lead author of the analysis, said in a press release.

According to the AHA, female heart disease patients not only experience different symptoms than men, but they also die at a rate of 26 percent within a year of a first heart attack-versus 19 percent for men.

"Over the last 10 years or so, we've learned that women's hearts are different than men's in some significant ways, and while that's helped reduce mortality, there's much more to know," Dr. Mehta said.

In this statement from the journal Circulation, researchers studied rates of cardiovascular disease and complications among women and also found that within five years of the first heart attack, almost half of female patients face heart failure, stroke or death. Men, on the other hand, face a 36-percent risk of the same. Women also experience different symptoms of CVD than men, such as arm or jaw pain, and they are less likely to experience chest pain, researchers said. Furthermore, women are more likely to get a heart attack after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, depression or high blood pressure, with black and Hispanic women facing the highest risk.

“Despite stunning improvements in cardiovascular deaths over the last decade, women still fare worse than men and heart disease in women remains under-diagnosed, and underrated, especially among African-American women,” Dr. Mehta said in the release.

Heart attacks occur when the heart's muscle can no longer get oxygen-rich blood as a result of clogged arteries. The blockage in women's arteries can differ in appearance and appear to be less severe than men's, even though the damage can be just as deadly, according to the AHA.

"Women are more complex, there are more biological variables such as hormonal fluctuations. That's why more research is needed," Mehta said in the release.

According to Mehta, women should "not be afraid to ask questions" and increasing research and closing ethnic gaps in CVD treatment is"a public health priority."

This statement was published January 25 in Circulation.

The AHA funded this statement.

Researcher Y. Wang declared grants from several pharmaceutical companies. Other authors declared no conflicts of interest.