A scientific statement released by the American Heart Association (AHA) highlights the gap in treatment for women at risk of heart attacks. The statement emphasizes the existence of a knowledge gap in how healthcare professionals currently diagnose and treat coronary artery spasms, spontaneous coronary artery dissection, and microvascular coronary artery disease.
Mortality rates for coronary heart disease are higher for women than men, and yet women are still undertreated and generally seek treatment later than men. There are many reasons for the delayed treatment; the central one being that women’s hearts are different than men’s, and as a result their symptoms can make it hard to diagnose correctly. Generally, women do not experience coronary heart failure (CHD) symptoms as apparent as men; some women may only experience shortness of breath, nausea, or flu-like symptoms.
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The statement also attributed behavioral issues in women as reasons for the treatment gap. Women often do not make their personal health a priority, the authors noted, which may be a factor in the higher number of heart disease-related deaths over men. In addition, more women have depression associated with heart disease, which can deter their treatment. Factors such as work and family responsibilities, and lack of support also affect women’s likelihood of completing cardiac rehabilitation.
The authors call for an increase in the number of cardiovascular clinical studies that focus on women in order to better understand the gender disparities of heart disease. “These symptoms can be very challenging for the patient and the medical profession. Women tend to under recognize or deny them,” said Dr. Mehta. Although causes of heart attacks may be the same between the genders, more cases of spontaneous coronary artery dissection are reported in women than men. The exact reasons for this are unknown, underlining the need for further research.
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