Women more likely than men to die from a heart attack due to treatment disparity

Women are more likely than men to die during the year following a heart attack because they are less likely to be offered recommended treatments, according to a study of Swedish patients.

Credit: Peerayot/Shutterstock

Experts warn that Sweden has one of the best healthcare systems in the world and that in Britain, the disparity could be even worse.

Researchers from the University of Leeds and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden analysed outcomes for 180,368 Swedish heart attack sufferers over a ten-year period (between 2003 and 2013) using data from Sweden’s online cardiac registry.

They found that women were twice as likely to die during the year following a heart attack and that, on average, they were less likely to receive the recommended treatments after a heart attack such as bypass surgery, stents and statins.

For one type of heart attack, women were 34% less likely to receive bypass surgery or stents to clear blocked arteries, 24% less likely to be prescribed statins to protect against a further attack and 16% less likely to be prescribed aspirin for blood clot prevention. This is despite guidelines recommending these treatments for both men and women.

Co-author of the study Chris Gale (University of Leeds) says there is a misconception amongst the public and healthcare professionals about what heart attack patients are like:

Typically, when we think of a heart attack patient, we see a middle-aged man who is overweight, has diabetes and smokes. This is not always the case; heart attacks affect the wider spectrum of the population - including women.

Gale says that from their very first point of contact with a healthcare professional, women are less likely to receive the same diagnostic tests as men, thereby increasing their risk of being misdiagnosed from the start. That, in turn, dictates the rest of their care, with women being more likely to miss the next point of contact. This “all adds up cumulatively and leads to a greater mortality," he explains.

The study, which is published in The Journal of the American Heart Association, also found that when women did receive the recommended treatment, the gender gap in mortality rate decreased in almost all circumstances.

We urgently need to raise awareness of this issue as it's something that can be easily changed. By simply ensuring more women receive the recommended treatments, we'll be able to help more families avoid the heartbreak of losing a loved one to heart disease

Jeremy Pearson, British Heart Foundation

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