In a new study, researchers found that women face a 20% increased risk of developing heart failure or dying within five years after their first severe heart attack compared with men.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of Alberta.
Previous research looking at sex differences in heart health has often focused on a recurrent heart attack or death.
However, the differences in vulnerability to heart failure between men and women after a heart attack remain unclear.
To study this gap, researchers analyzed data on more than 45,000 patients (30.8% women) hospitalized for a first heart attack between 2002-2016 in Alberta, Canada. Patients were followed for about 6 years.
The team found that women were older and faced a variety of complications and more risk factors that may have put them at a greater risk for heart failure after a heart attack.
In addition to the higher risk for heart failure among women, researchers found:
The development of heart failure either in the hospital or after discharge remained higher for women than men for both types of heart attack, even after adjusting for certain confounders.
Women had a higher rate of death in the hospital than men. Women were more likely to be an average of 10 years older than men at the time of their heart attack, usually an average age of 72 years versus 61 for the men.
Women also had more complicated medical histories at the time of their heart attacks, including high blood pressure, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, risk factors that may contribute to heart failure.
Women were seen less frequently in the hospital by a cardiovascular specialist: 72.8% versus 84% for men.
Regardless of whether their heart attacks were the severe or less severe type, fewer women were prescribed medications such as beta-blockers or cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Women also had slightly lower rates of procedures to restore blood flow, such as surgical angioplasty.
The team says that identifying when and how women may be at higher risk for heart failure after a heart attack can help providers develop more effective approaches for prevention.
Better adherence to reducing cholesterol, controlling high blood pressure, getting more exercise, eating a healthy diet, and stopping smoking, combined with recognition of these problems earlier in life would save thousands of lives of women — and men.
One author of the study is Justin A. Ezekowitz, M.B.B.Ch., M.Sc., a cardiologist.
The study is published in Circulation.
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