Heart Attack in Women: The New Findings

Heart attack causes, symptoms, outcomes may differ between genders

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Women and men differ in many obvious ways. One not so obvious difference has to do with their hearts.

The American Heart Association (AHA) has issued its first ever statement on heart attacks in women. The statement notes that the causes, symptoms and outcomes of women's heart attacks differ from those of men. Black and Hispanic women also have more pronounced differences in risk factors and outcomes compared to white women.

The chair of the AHA group of experts, Laxmi Mehta, MD, said in a press release, "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, especially among African American women."

Dr. Mehta is a cardiologist and director of the Women's Cardiovascular Health Program at Ohio State University.

A heart attack is typically caused by a blockage in the main arteries of the heart. Compared to men, women tend to have less severe blockages. These blockages can still damage the heart muscle, however.

According to the AHA, women with heart attacks tend to be undertreated compared to men, possibly because their symptoms don't seem as serious. Women also tend to be older and have other health problems like diabetes and high blood pressure when a heart attack occurs.

One method of treating a heart attack is to insert a stent (a plastic or metal tube) to open the blocked artery. Women are more likely to develop stent complications than men because their blood vessels are smaller.

According to the AHA, women are also less likely to be prescribed heart rehabilitation. Even when it is prescribed, women are less likely to both participate in or complete the program.

Chest pain is the most common symptom of heart attack in both men and women. Compared to men, women typically have less common symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, back or jaw pain.

Although the risk factors for heart attacks are the same for both men and women, they differ in some degree. Women who have high blood pressure are more likely to have a heart attack than men with high blood pressure. The risk of heart attack in young women with diabetes is also between four and five times that of young men with diabetes.

Compared to white women, black women are more likely to experience a heart attack at all ages. Young black women are also more likely to die of a heart attack than young white women.

Black and Hispanic women typically have more risk factors for heart attack than white women. These include high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. Black women are also less likely to be referred for heart catheters than white 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 heart attack," Dr. Mehta said in a press release.

This statement was published Jan. 25 in the AHA's journal Circulation.

No funding sources were disclosed. Study authors, Tracy Yang and Karol Watson, reported receiving grants or consulting fees from companies that make heart medications, including Astra Zeneca, Eli Lilly and Sankyo.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 21, 2016
Last Updated:
January 25, 2016