I just finished reading a truly weird rant on another website, written by a man decrying the “sexism” of our society because all of our male doctors are now focused only on women’s heart disease – while apparently ignoring men completely.
It would surely be the fantasy dream of every woman heart attack survivor if this man were actually telling the truth about all that attention women’s heart disease is allegedly attracting. The frightening reality instead is that since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease. In fact, the gap between men and women’s cardiac survival continues to widen.
In the interests of enlightening the unconscious among us about All Things Cardiac, I am happy to point out an assortment of gender differences if you find yourself having a heart attack:
- 1. For women under the age of 50, heart attacks are twice as likely to be fatal as men’s.
- 2. Women are twice as likely as men to die within the first few weeks after suffering a heart attack, and 42% of women die within the first year following a heart attack compared to 24% of men.
- 4. Men’s coronary artery plaque tends to distribute in clumps, whereas women’s tends to distribute more evenly throughout artery walls, thus lending credibility to cardiologists’ suspicion that “men explode, but women erode“. This tendency results in women’s diagnostic tests frequently being misinterpreted as “normal”.
- 5. Women wait longer than men to go to a hospital Emergency Department when having a heart attack, and physicians are slower to recognize the presence of heart attacks in women because “typical” patterns of chest pain and EKG changes are less frequently present.
- 6. Average risk of being misdiagnosed in mid-heart attack for both men and women is about one in 50 – unless you’re a women under 55, in which case you are seven times more likely to be misdiagnosed compared to men.(1)
- 7. After a heart attack, women are less likely than men to receive standard treaments like beta blockers, ACE inhibitors and even aspirin – therapies known to improve survival. This contributes to a higher rate of complication after heart attacks in women, even after adjusting for age.
- 8. Over 46% of women but only 22% of men heart attack survivors will be disabled with heart failure within six years.
- 9. Women are 2-3 times more likely to die following open heart bypass surgery. But younger women between the ages of 40-59 are four times more likely to die from bypass surgery than men of exactly the same age.
- 10. Women with diabetes have more than double the risk of heart attack than non- diabetic women. Diabetes doubles the risk of a second heart attack in women, but not in men. Diabetes affects many more women than men after the age of 45.
- 11. Women who are eligible candidates to receive life-saving clot-busting drugs in hospital are far less likely than men to receive them.
- 12. The best course of treatment for a woman with heart disease has yet to be established, but women currently receive fewer cardiac procedures than men. Cardiologist Dr. Benjamin Lewis told Healthline interviewers: “Women really have to almost earn their way into the health care system through an acute illness as opposed to men, who are more likely to be diagnosed before some catastrophe strikes.”
- 13. Women comprise less than 24% of participants in all heart-related research studies even though we make up 53% of heart patients.
- 14. More women than men in North America have died from heart disease every year since 1984. Yet an American Heart Association survey of physicians found that only 8% of family physicians were aware of this fact, and (even worse!) only 17% of cardiologists were aware.
January 31, 2016: The American Heart Association released its first ever scientific statement on women’s heart attacks, confirming that “compared to men, women tend to be undertreated“, and including this finding: “While the most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort for both sexes, women are more likely to have atypical symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and back or jaw pain.”
(1) Pope JH, Aufderheide TP, Ruthazer R, et al. Missed diagnoses of acute cardiac ischemia in the emergency department. N Engl J Med. 2000;342:1163-1170.