Tuesday, December 23, 2008

American Heart Association uncovers gender disparities in heart attack mortality

A recent American Heart Association study revealed disparities in the mortality rates between men and women who suffer heart attacks. The study found that women were more than twice as likely to die within the first 24 hours after being hospitalized for a heart attack, according to the report in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Through an analysis of data from the American Heart Association’s Get With the Guidelines program, researchers found that the mortality rate for patients with ST elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) - a severe heart attack - was 10.2 for women compared to 5.5 for men.

The report said the women were older and had higher overall risk factors that contributed to the gender gap; however, it also suggested that some treatments were delayed or underused in cases involving women. Malissa Wood, MD, co-director of the Corrigan Women’s Heart Health Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center, says the difference between heart attack symptoms in men and women could also have played a role in the disparity.

“Most women do not experience the clutching chest pain that is common among men. Therefore, it often takes longer for women to seek treatment at an emergency room because they do not realize the symptoms they are experiencing are those of a heart attack,” said Wood.

Common heart attacks symptoms in women may include:

  • Unusual fatigue and weakness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Discomfort that radiates from chest bone to the shoulders, arms, neck or lower jaw
  • Cold sweats

Adding to the gender gap is that emergency room physicians may not immediately interpret women’s symptoms as a heart attack, further delaying treatment, said Wood. In the AHA’s study researchers found that, compared to men, women were:

  • 14 percent less likely to receive early aspirin
  • 10 percent less likely to receive beta blockers
  • 25 percent less likely to receive reperfusion therapy (to restore blood flow)
  • 22 percent less likely to receive reperfusion therapy within 30 minutes of hospital arrival
  • 13 percent less likely to receive angioplasty within 90 minutes of hospital arrival

"Although STEMI is not as common among women as it is among men, it is a concern that there is still this gap in mortality between men and women after the more severe heart attack," read the report.

The Corrigan Women’s Heart Health Program at Massachusetts General Hospital provides cardiac care designed specifically for women. For more information about this program, please call 617-726-1843.

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