A new study has found that women are at risk of repeat heart attacks and early death due to the misconception that heart disease affects men more than women.
This means that women are twice as likely as men to die from the most serious type of heart attack, which researchers believe is because of the differences in care provided.
The study revealed that women who suffered a heart attack known as a STEMI, where one of the major arteries suppling blood to the heart becomes blocked, were 34% less likely than men to undergo surgical procedures such as bypass and stents which clear blocked arteries and restore blood flow to the heart. They were also 24% less likely to be prescribed statins, which help prevent a second heart attack, and 16% less likely to be given aspirin to help prevent blood clots.
Furthermore, the researchers found that women are 50% more likely to be misdiagnosed from the first point of contact with healthcare professionals, and less likely to receive the same diagnostic tests, such as pre-hospital ECG, than men, which is worrying given such tests are essential for early diagnosis and treatment. These statistics are particularly concerning as guidelines do not suggest different treatments depending on gender.
The researchers, from the University of Leeds and British Heart Foundation, also found that the gap between the genders decreases dramatically when women receive the same treatment as men.
The study involved analysing the outcomes of more than 180,000 Swedish patients over a 10 year period. However, while this analysis uses Swedish data, the researchers have warned that the situation is likely to be worse for women in the UK, which has one of the worst mortality rates from heart attacks in the world, as well as a greater variation in how care is delivered.
Co-author of the study, Professor Chris Gale, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and Honorary Consultant Cardiologist at the University of Leeds, has been raising awareness of the study. He acknowledges that although society often thinks of heart attack patients as middle-aged males, this is not the case, and we need to work hard to shift this perception. In fact, women are nearly three times as likely to die from coronary heart disease as they are from breast cancer.
The researchers have advised that the solution for this problem is clear and simple: equal provision of care must be given to men and women in order to ensure that they receive early diagnosis and treatment.
Women also need to be made aware that heart attacks are not just a male problem and should be encouraged to go to their GP when they experience symptoms.
Emma McCheyne, a senior associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, commented: “Tragically, there are a large number of deaths from heart disease in the UK which could have potentially been avoided The findings from the study highlight this. However, this is something that can be changed by raising awareness of the divergences in care."