A statement from the American Heart Association (AHA) notes that heart disease in women remains underdiagnosed and undertreated. This is especially seen in black women.
Heart attacks differ between women and men in numerous ways.
- Women are less likely to have plaque buildup in the large arteries leading to the heart.
- Women are more likely to have damage to small blood vessels on the heart’s outer surface.
- Women who have heart attacks tend to be five to 10 years older than men. And they are more likely to have diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Women are less likely to be treated with medication or procedures to restore blood flow to the heart.
- After a heart attack, women are less likely to receive the recommended high-dose statin treatment.
- The symptoms of coronary artery disease in women are often less specific than the classical symptoms seen in men.
- When heart procedures are performed, women may have more frequent complications. This is because their blood vessels tend to be smaller.
The AHA encourages women to have more open discussions with their doctors about medication and treatments to prevent and treat a heart attack.
Gender differences are also evident in cardiac arrest. When cardiac arrest strikes, immediate action can make the difference between life and death. But according to a large study1, women were less likely than men to receive the following lifesaving emergency procedures in the hospital:
- Coronary angiography: find out whether a heart attack caused the cardiac arrest
- Angioplasty: open any artery blockages
- Therapeutic hypothermia: lowers the body temperature to help boost a patient’s survival odds and limit brain damage
The reasons for this gap are not clear. One possibility is that with women, it can be more difficult to know whether a heart attack triggered cardiac arrest. They are less likely to have “classic” heart attack symptoms like chest pain, for example.
Ultimately, the odds of surviving cardiac arrest and limiting brain damage depend on quick action. Make sure your family members know how to recognize cardiac arrest and how to respond. Call 911 immediately. And perform chest compressions until emergency help arrives.
- Luke Kim. Journal of the American Heart Association, June, 2016.