According to groundbreaking findings presented at the prestigious Heart Failure 2023 scientific congress, women are more than twice as likely to experience life-threatening consequences, including death and future cardiovascular events, following a heart attack compared to men. This revelation is of paramount significance considering that heart disease remains the leading cause of death among women in the United States.
Dr. Mariana Martinho, a renowned cardiologist at Hospital Garcia de Orta in Portugal and the study’s author, emphasized the unexpected nature of these results, stating, “Generally, women have a lower risk of cardiovascular events than men. But when they do have a myocardial infarction, which is generally known as a heart attack, they are at a higher risk of developing future events and dying from the disease.”
The implications of this research indicate that women necessitate additional medical monitoring and check-ins after experiencing a cardiac event to ensure their well-being. Dr. Martinho emphasized the need for strict control of blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and diabetes, along with referral to cardiac rehabilitation, as vital components of post-heart attack care. She also stressed the importance of addressing rising smoking levels among young women and promoting physical activity and healthy living.
The study, which examined short- and long-term outcomes in both men and women following ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), identified a cohort of 884 patients treated with percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) between 2010 and 2015. Adjusting for various risk factors and health conditions, the researchers discovered that women consistently experienced worse short- and long-term outcomes, along with an increased incidence of additional cardiovascular events subsequent to a heart attack.
Shockingly, the data revealed that at the 30-day follow-up, 11.8% of women had succumbed to heart attacks, compared to only 4.6% of men. Even more distressing, over a span of five years, 32.1% of women had tragically lost their lives, while only 16.9% of men had met the same fate. Moreover, 34.2% of women suffered subsequent cardiovascular events, significantly surpassing the 19.8% rate among men.
Further analysis matched men and women based on cardiovascular disease risk factors, unveiling an alarming trend: women remained more prone to death after a heart attack or to experience additional adverse cardiovascular events. Postmenopausal women (55 years and older) exhibited higher rates of mortality and adverse events, while premenopausal women (55 years and under) were nearly four times more likely to encounter major cardiovascular events compared to men of similar age groups.
These distressing findings echo previous studies that have exposed the gender disparities in cardiovascular disease outcomes. Dr. Holly S. Andersen, an attending cardiologist and associate professor of clinical medicine, expressed her disappointment, noting that once diagnosed with heart disease, women face worse prognoses and a higher likelihood of mortality than men. Several earlier studies have already highlighted this discrepancy, underscoring the urgent need for greater awareness and research in this area.
The lack of awareness among women regarding heart disease symptoms and risk factors might partially contribute to these disparities. Regrettably, heart disease is often perceived as a predominantly male affliction, leading to delayed diagnosis and inadequate treatment for women. A 2020 study involving over 45,000 first-time heart attack patients discovered that women faced a higher risk of mortality and heart failure in the five years following an episode, while a 2017 study highlighted an increased risk of death among women in the first year post-heart attack compared to men.
Dr. Laxmi Mehta, a cardiologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, emphasized the concerning persistence of increased mortality among women following heart attacks. She stated, “The increased mortality in women following heart attacks has been shown in other prior studies, and it is a concern that it continues to be demonstrated in studies like this.”
While the exact reasons behind the gender disparities in cardiovascular outcomes require further investigation, experts suggest that a lack of awareness among women regarding heart disease symptoms and risk factors plays a significant role. Nicole Weinberg, MD, a cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, emphasized the need for women to prioritize their heart health, stating, “The more I talk to women, they say they’re seeing doctors, but they’re looking for the big, bad stuff and not small, insidious things.” Dr. Weinberg added that women often spend more time focusing on preventing breast cancer rather than addressing cholesterol and blood sugar issues, which are crucial for heart health.
Furthermore, Laura Franey, MD, a cardiologist at Corewell Health, highlighted the limited understanding of gender-specific causes for poorer heart outcomes in females. She stressed the necessity for more studies to uncover why women do not experience similar improvements in outcomes as men despite advances in medical care. Dr. Franey stated, “More studies are needed to determine why, despite improving outcomes in men, we are not seeing similar outcomes in women.”
In light of these concerning findings, it is essential for women to take proactive measures to protect their heart health. Dr. Martinho advised patients to be aware of the symptoms of a heart attack and seek immediate medical assistance when experiencing them. Notably, symptoms in women may differ from those in men, with arm, jaw, or back pain, feelings of indigestion, weakness, sweating, or lightheadedness being common indicators. However, women must not only recognize these symptoms but also take prompt action to seek medical help, as they tend to delay seeking treatment longer than men.
Prevention emerges as a crucial aspect of heart health. Dr. Weinberg emphasized the significance of adopting a healthy lifestyle, including regular physical activity, a low-fat diet, and avoiding smoking, to prevent major cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol. For women who have experienced a heart attack or cardiovascular event, aggressive treatment and strict control of blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar levels are essential. Referral to cardiac rehabilitation programs can also significantly contribute to recovery and ongoing care.
Despite the availability of information regarding women and heart health, significant efforts are still required to save lives and address the gender disparities in cardiovascular outcomes. Dr. Andersen stressed the urgent need to study women’s heart disease comprehensively, as it often differs from men’s, and to ensure that healthcare providers are knowledgeable about the higher risk women face. Moreover, women must be empowered to understand their risks, recognize symptoms, and advocate for their care.
In conclusion, this astonishing research sheds light on the alarming reality that women are more than twice as likely to face adverse outcomes, including death, after experiencing a heart attack compared to men. Urgent action is needed to enhance monitoring, raise awareness, and conduct further research to unravel the underlying causes of these gender disparities. By prioritizing prevention, recognizing symptoms, and seeking timely medical assistance, women can take control of their heart health and potentially mitigate these risks. It is crucial to promote a paradigm shift and ensure that women receive the care and attention they deserve in the battle against heart disease.