Since 1984, the annual cardiovascular disease mortality rates have been higher for women than men, although the rates have declined in the past 15 years. Still, a recent scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA) revealed that women are undertreated, are less likely to participate in cardiac rehabilitation and have more severe risk factors compared with men.
The findings of the first AHA scientific statement for acute MI in women were published online in Circulation on Jan. 25. Laxmi Mehta, MD, a noninvasive cardiologist and director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Program at The Ohio State University, was the writing group’s chairperson.
The authors cited a few factors for the decline in cardiovascular disease mortality for women, including an increase in awareness, more of a focus on women and their cardiovascular risk and treating coronary heart disease with evidence-based medications and therapies.
In the U.S., 6.6 million women each year have coronary heart disease, which is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality among women. Of those women, 2.7 million have a history of MI, more than 53,000 died of an MI and 262,000 were hospitalized for acute MI or unstable angina.
The researchers cited data that found 26 percent of women and 19 percent of men die within a year of an acute MI and 47 percent of women and 36 percent of men die within five years of an acute MI. Women also have a higher prevalence of diabetes, heart failure, hypertension, depression and renal dysfunction compared with men.
Although chest pain and discomfort is the most common MI symptom for both sexes, the researchers noted that women are more likely to have shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, back or jaw pain and other atypical symptoms. They added that high blood pressure is more strongly associated with MI in women, while young women with diabetes have a four to five times higher risk for heart disease compared with young men.
“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 in a news release. “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.”