Women, weaker at heart
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- Published 6.09.05
London, Sept. 6: Heart disease in women is 10 times more common than breast cancer and may be a bigger problem in women than in men, specialists said yesterday.
The fact that heart disease was the “ number one killer” of women in European countries was still not widely known, said Ian Graham, of the Adelaide and Meath Hospital, Dublin.
“Women are less likely to be investigated for heart disease, diagnosed correctly, referred for specialist investigation, offered revascularisation (artery procedures) or be offered appropriate drug therapy,” he said.
Graham, addressing the annual conference of the European Society of Cardiology, said women were also seriously under-represented in trials of new treatments.
Doctors, health planners and members of the public needed to know about women’s risks.
“We are used to the idea of women dying from breast cancer. But cardiovascular disease is the biggest cause of death and they are at double the risk of dying within a year after a heart attack than men,” he said.
The conference, attended by 25,000 doctors and cardiologists, has taken ‘Women at Heart’ as this year’s theme. Specialists are debating whether women need a different treatment plan to have the same chances as men.
Graham will tell the conference today that heart disease in women develops on average 10 years later than in men.
In both sexes, smoking, raised cholesterol levels and high blood pressure increase the risk of heart disease or a heart attack.
However, women after the menopause who have the risk factors may be more at risk of developing heart disease than men of the same age ? and are then more at risk of dying from it.
Females were less likely to be given surgery and did less well when they had treatment to open blocked arteries, possibly because they were much more sick by the time they were given treatment.
“More research is needed into the clinical presentation of heart disease in women and why health professionals and indeed women themselves seem to underestimate the problem,” Graham said.
The Euro Heart Survey programme presented to the conference found “considerable gender differences” in diagnostic treatment using sophisticated imaging machines.
Dr Mattie Lenzen of the Erasmus Medical Centre, Holland, said: “The under use of diagnostic tests in women might partly explain the gender differences.”
Caroline Daley of the Royal Brompton Hospital, London, said the survey had looked at the presentation, treatment and prognosis of heart attacks and unstable angina in 32 countries.
“Despite the fact that cardiovascular disease is the most frequent cause of death in women in Europe and the cause of death in more women (55 per cent) than in men (43 per cent), the perception remains that women form just a small sub-group of the coronary disease population,” she said.
Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said the problem ran right through the system.
“Women are less likely to be referred for treatment, less likely to have diagnostic tests and because they are not at this level of care are not included in trials.”