Women Have Weaker Hearts

Heart attacks create more health issues for women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) When it comes to a heart attack men and women display differing symptoms. The differences don't end there. Women may have more difficulty recovering after a heart attack and their quality of life may be worse.

Women under the age of 55 have more health declines one month after a heart attack as compared to men.

"Immediately call 9-1-1 if you experience heart attack symptoms."

Dr. Karin Humphries, a University of British Columbia Heart and Stroke Foundation professor in women's cardiovascular health, said that the prevalence of traditional cardiac risk factors such as diabetes, smoking and high blood pressure contribute, but do not fully explain the poorer outcome in women.

She said that is why the study instead focused on non-traditional risk factors such as depression, anxiety and social support. Much of the slower recovery in women is in part affected by social and cultural standards that mean women in this age group are often in the role of primary caregiver, she said.

During the study, 286 patients, of which 75 were women, all under the age of 55 were recruited from five British Columbia hospitals. Researchers collected data when patients arrived after a heart attack. They followed up on clinical, psychological characteristics and demographic information at one month, six months and one year.

Investigators found that women between the ages of 20 and 55 had significantly worse physical limitations, more chest pain and a lower quality of life than their male counterparts a month following a heart attack.

As compared to directly after they heart attack, they also showed declines in physical limitations and reported recurrences of chest pain. For men, only physical limitations worsened between the heart attack and the one month mark.

Researchers suggest the differences in women's outcomes may be because they are less likely to believe they are having a heart attack, tend to put off treatment so they arrive at the hospital later, and often ignore or under report their symptoms. They also are not investigated for heart disease as aggressively.

Dr. Humphries added that women are not getting the needed support to recover from a heart attack. She said assistance is needed in adding women overcome barriers to recovery. Outcomes could likely be improved through increased risk factor awareness and better knowledge of heart attack symptoms.

The study, which has not yet been published, was presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress 2011, hosted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Cardiovascular Society.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 26, 2011
Last Updated:
October 27, 2011