“Sucks to be female. Better luck next life!”
A woman’s heart attack causes, symptoms may differ from a man’s
American Heart Association Scientific Statement
Embargoed until 3 p.m. CT / 4 p.m. ET Monday, January 25, 2016
- Women frequently have different underlying causes of heart attacks than men, such as the types of plaque buildup.
- Compared to men, women tend to be undertreated, and are less likely to participate in cardiac rehab after a heart attack.
- Risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes increase heart attack risk in women more severely than in men.
DALLAS, Texas, Monday, January 25, 2016 —A woman’s heart attack may have different underlying causes, symptoms and outcomes compared to men, and differences in risk factors and outcomes are further pronounced in black and Hispanic women, according to a scientific statement published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.
The statement is the first scientific statement from the American Heart Association on heart attacks in women. It notes that there have been dramatic declines in cardiovascular deaths among women due to improved treatment and prevention of heart disease as well as increased public awareness.
“Despite stunning improvements in cardiovascular deaths over the last decade, women still fare worse than men and heart disease in women remains underdiagnosed, and undertreated” said writing group chair Laxmi Mehta, M.D., a noninvasive cardiologist and Director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Program at The Ohio State University.
Heart attacks caused by blockages in the main arteries leading to the heart can occur in both men and women. However, the way the blockages form a blood clot may differ. Compared to men, women can have less severe blockages that do not require any stents; yet the heart’s coronary artery blood vessels are damaged which results in decreased blood flow to the heart muscle. The result is the same – when blood flow to the heart is decreased for any reason, a heart attack can occur. If doctors don’t correctly diagnose the underlying cause of a woman’ heart attack, they may not be prescribing the right type of treatments after the heart attack. Medical therapies are similar regardless of the cause of the heart attack or the severity of the blockages. However, women are undertreated compared to men despite proven benefits of these medications. (Note from Carolyn: SCAD survivors like Laura Haywood-Cory will be pleased to see that this AHA statement also includes half a page on heart attacks caused by Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection).
Women face greater complications from attempts to restore blood flow because their blood vessels tend to be smaller, they are older and have increased rates of risk factors, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Guideline-recommended medications are consistently underutilized in women, leading to worse outcomes. Also, cardiac rehabilitation is prescribed less frequently for women and even when it is prescribed, women are less likely to participate in it or complete it.
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.
Risk factors for heart attacks also differ in degree of risk in men compared to women. For example, high blood pressure is more strongly associated with heart attacks in women and if a young woman has diabetes her risk for heart disease is 4 to 5 times higher compared to young men.
Compared to white women, black women have a higher incidence of heart attacks in all age categories and young black women have higher in-hospital death rates. Black and Hispanic women tend to have more heart-related risk factors such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure at the time of their heart attack compared to non-Hispanic white women. Compared to white women, black women are also less likely to be referred for important treatments such as cardiac catheterization..
Understanding gender differences can help improve prevention and treatment among women. “Women should not be afraid to ask questions – we advise all women to have more open and candid discussions with their doctor about both medication and interventional treatments to prevent and treat a heart attack,” Mehta said.
“Coronary heart disease afflicts 6.6 million American women annually and remains the leading threat to the lives of women. Helping women prevent and survive heart attacks through increased research and improving ethnic and racial disparities in prevention and treatment is a public health priority,” she said.
Statement co-authors are Theresa Beckie, Ph.D.; Holli DeVon, Ph.D., R.N.; Cindy Grines, M.D.; Harlan Krumholz, M.D., S.M.; Michelle Johnson, M.D., M.P.H.; Kathryn Lindley, M.D.; Viola Vaccarino, M.D., Ph.D.; Tracy Wang, M.D., M.H.S., M.Sc.; Karol Watson, M.D., Ph.D.; Nanette Wenger, M.D.
Author disclosures are on the manuscript.
(1) Laxmi S. Mehta et al. Acute Myocardial Infarction in Women. A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association.
Q: Did anything surprise you in the AHA statement?
Meanwhile, A Few Things I’ve Been Writing About While Waiting Around for this AHA Statement:
- Yentl Syndrome: Cardiology’s Gender Gap is Alive and Well
- The Sad Reality of Women’s Heart Health Hits Home
- How Does It Really Feel to Have a Heart Attack? Women Survivors Answer That Question
- Diagnosis – and Misdiagnosis – of Women’s Heart Disease
- 14 Reasons To Be Glad You’re A Man When You’re Having a Heart Attack
- His and Hers Heart Attacks
- What is Causing my Chest Pain?
- When Your Doctor Mislabels You As an “Anxious Female”
- Heart Disease: Not Just A Man’s Disease Anymore
- How Doctors Discovered That Women Have Heart Disease, Too
- Gender Differences in Heart Attack Treatment Contribute To Women’s Higher Death Rates
- How a Woman’s Heart Attack is Different From A Man’s
- How Gender Bias Threatens Women’s Health
- The Sad Reality of Women’s Heart Disease Hits Home
- Women Under Age 55 Fare Worse After Heart Attack Than Men
- Researchers Openly Mock the ‘Myth’ of Women’s Unique Heart Attack Symptoms
- Why Female Shift Workers May Be At Risk for Heart Disease
- Women’s Cardiac Care: Is It Gender Difference – or Gender Bias?
- Unconscious bias: Why Women Don’t Get the Same Care Men Do
- How Can We Get Female Heart Patients Past the E.R. Gatekeepers?
- Why Are Women with Atrial Fibrillation Treated Differently Than Men Are?
- Women Missing the Beat: Are Doctors Ignoring Women’s Cardiac Symptoms?
- Misdiagnosis: the Perils of “Unwarranted Certainty”
- Things Your Doctor May Not Know
- Experts: Why So Wrong So Often?
- How to Be a Good Patient
- Seven Ways to Misdiagnose a Heart Attack
- Words Matter When We Describe our Heart Attack Symptoms
- ‘Gaslighting’ – or, Why Women Are Just Too Darned Emotional During their Heart Attacks
- Mayo Clinic: “What Are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack for Women?”
- Women’s “Heart Attack Myth?” Revisiting the Controversial Canadian Study
- Women Heart Attack Survivors Know Their Place