For years, health experts have struggled to challenge the perception of heart failure as a man’s disease and raise awareness of its disproportionate impact on women. A new study signals there’s more work to be done.
The researchers analyzed more than 90,000 patients diagnosed with heart failure in Ontario during a five-year period starting in 2009. They found that women were more likely to be hospitalized, and were more likely to die as a result of the condition, particularly within one year of diagnosis, according to the study published on Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. This trend is ongoing, even though fewer people are being diagnosed with heart problems and the mortality rate from heart disease is declining for both sexes.
Women examined in the study were also older and more frail than their male counterparts, and tended to have lower socioeconomic status. Louise Sun, a cardiac anesthesiologist at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute and lead author of the study, said the new data raise awareness that men and women are in fact “different” when it comes to heart health.
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Heart failure is a condition in which the heart is too weak to pump enough blood to vital organs to function properly. It can be caused by a heart attack or other medical issue.
A report published in February by the Heart and Stroke Foundation showed heart disease is the leading cause of premature death of women in Canada, and that women who have a heart attack are more likely than men to die or have another heart attack. According to Statistics Canada, about 25,000 women die each year from heart disease.
Dr. Sun said the reasons are unclear. But some of the gaps can be linked to the different ways men and women experience conditions that can lead to heart failure. For men, signs of a heart attack, for example, are easier to spot. Women suffer more muted symptoms and are sometimes misdiagnosed as a result. “There is a lower index of suspicion,” Dr. Sun said of heart failure in women.
Lack of research is another issue facing women’s heart health, Dr. Sun said. This was echoed by Lesley James of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, who said two-thirds of clinical research on heart disease is focused on men.
“Women have been under-researched, under-diagnosed and under-treated,” Ms. James said. Because of this, heart failure treatment for men has advanced over the past 10 years, while treatment options for women are behind. “Unfortunately, that gap is larger than we would like to see,” Dr. Sun said.
Ms. James said the findings of the study are in line with some of the trends the Heart and Stroke Foundation has noticed.