Each year, roughly 1.2 million Americans suffer a heart attacks, and almost 40 percent of them die. Men, in general, are at an increased danger of heart attack, at least until women experience menopause and lose the protective effect of the estrogen hormone. It is then the risk among genders becomes almost equal.
A new study has shown the gender gap has also narrowed between middle-aged men and women meaning that either hormonal imprint isn’t protecting women in midlife as well as it did in the past or that not enough importance is being given to women’s cardiovascular health. In this new study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, a national survey analyzed data on more than 8,000 men and women aged 35 to 54.
Dr. Amytis Towfighi, assistant professor of clinical neurology at the University of Southern California and chairwoman of the neurology department at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, suggests that precursors to heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, are not evaluated or treated as aggressively in women. There have been several studies that have found women have their risk factors checked a lot less frequently than men do. It is also noted that when they are checked, women are less likely to receive treatment than men, and when they do receive treatment, their symptoms are not monitored as much as men.
Of course societal changes may also play a role. With more women in the work force, job requirements may be adding to their rising rates of obesity and diabetes and restricting their ability to exercise and follow a healthy diet. One researcher offered that “people didn’t think that women in that age group were at great risk for heart disease or stroke, but I suspect that with growing rates of obesity, women aren’t as guarded as much as they have been in the past.” Another study published in the same journal, doctors examined progressions in the risk of death after heart attack among 916,380 men and women who had a heart attack between 1994 and 2006. With the biggest improvements seen in women, doctors found that survival rates after a heart attack improved in both men and women during that time. It has been found that the number of younger women who die in the hospital following a heart attack, compared with men in the same age group, has narrowed over the last few years. Also, women under the age of 55 had a 52.9 percent decrease in the risk of death over that time period, whereas men of the same age had a 33.3 percent reduction. However, the gender difference became progressively trivial in older men and women.
Researchers theorized that the decrease could be the result of better diagnosis and treatment of heart problems for the women compared with the men. Such improvement may be due to better identification and management of coronary heart disease and its risk factors in women before the acute MI event, as suggested by the narrowing in the sex difference in previous revascularization,” they wrote. In an accompanying article, Dr’s Sabine Oertelt-Prigione in Berlin added, that while the improvements discussed in both studies “indicate that we are headed in the right direction,” they also support the use of more intrusive risk assessment for the avoidance of heart attack, especially for women.