Gender Matters in Recovery From a Heart Attack

HeartHYANNIS – Fewer women than men have heart attacks, however they don’t do as well after having one.

A recent Blue Cross Blue Shield report revealed that women are more likely to die within one year of a heart attack, have another heart attack within six years, and be disabled within six years from heart failure.

The analysis highlighted women ages 18-64 but indicates the same trend in older women, as well, according to the American Heart Association.

Moreover, heart disease exceeds all forms of cancer as the cause of death in American women.

“Women are usually older when they have a heart attack,” said Jennifer Ladner,MD, a cardiologist at Cape Cod Hospital. Unlike men, they are protected from having a heart attack up until menopause, although the reason for that is unknown, she said. The risk of a heart attack increases after menopause, she added.

In addition to age, women may be dealing with two or three diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, which make their complication rates higher, said Dr. Ladner.

Women don’t often experience the same symptoms during a heart attack as men and if they do, tend to seek help later in the course of a cardiac event. This can delay treatment and cause more damage to the heart muscle.

The signs of a heart attack can also be more subtle and be as vague as fatigue and shortness of breath, which can be symptoms of other illnesses. Although women can experience chest pain, “it’s not as common for women as men,” Dr. Ladner said.

A heart attack (myocardial infarction) occurs when oxygen-rich blood is blocked from going to a part of your heart muscle and, if not treated quickly, the muscle begins to die. The blockage is often caused by plaque, a white, waxy build-up in the arteries, which causes a condition called atherosclerosisand coronary heart disease (CHD).

The BCBS study, according to claims data, highlighted that women receive less aggressive treatment than men after a heart attack.

Of all the percutaneous coronary interventions (formerly known as angioplasties and angioplasties with a stent to keep a vessel open) only 33% were performed on women according to the American Heart Association. The BCBS report also stated that fewer women than men have open heart surgery (coronary artery bypass grafting CABG).

These statistics are misleading because when comparing men and women in the same age group with the same diseases, there aren’t any significant differences whether a PCI is performed or not, said Dr. Ladner. Women have smaller arteries than men which can be a higher risk for survival with open heart surgery. And more men than women have heart disease.

How can you prevent a heart attack? Exercise and don’t smoke are the two most important things you can do Dr. Ladner said. Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables, as well as omega 3 fatty acids like walnuts, olive oil and avocados, maintain normal levels of cholesterol and weight, and keep blood sugars and blood pressure under control.

By ROBERTA CANNON, OneCape Health News

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