Heart attack gender gap is causing 'needless deaths of women', charity warns

‘Women don’t receive the same standard of treatment as men’ [Photo: Getty]
‘Women don’t receive the same standard of treatment as men’ [Photo: Getty]

Two women a day are thought to be dying needlessly because of a ‘heart attack gender gap’ where they do not receive equal treatment to men, a charity has suggested.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) says stark inequalities in awareness, diagnosis and treatment of heart attacks contributed to an estimated 8,200 plus women dying in England and Wales over a 10-year period from 2003-2013

The research, a BHF-funded study at the University of Leeds, also revealed that women are 50% more likely than men to initially receive an incorrect diagnosis when they are experiencing a heart attack.

In a new briefing, Bias and Biology: How the gender gap in heart disease is costing women's lives, the charity said women delay seeking help when they experience symptoms, increasing their risk of death.

Women take longer on average to arrive at the hospital after the onset of symptoms than men, a global review found included in the briefing found.

Research also showed that women were 2.7% less likely to be prescribed statins and 7.4% less likely to be prescribed beta blockers when leaving hospital.

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Risk factors for heart attack are also more serious for women - high blood pressure increases women's risk 80% more, and type 2 diabetes increases women's risk 50% more.

And while there is a common perception that heart attack is a man's disease, in reality twice as many women die from coronary heart disease - the underlying cause of most heart attacks - than breast cancer in the UK.

Commenting on the findings Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, consultant cardiologist and BHF associate medical director, said the charity was not pointing a finger at any individual or organisation, but highlighting a "deeply entrenched issue which manifests itself in a series of unconscious biases.

"Heart attacks have never been more treatable. Yet women are dying needlessly because heart attacks are often seen as a man's disease, and women don't receive the same standard of treatment as men.

"The studies detailed in this briefing have revealed inequalities at every stage of a woman's medical journey.

"The reasons for this are complex to dissect. Together, we must change this."

About 35,000 women are admitted to hospital following a heart attack in the UK each year - an average of 98 women a day, BHF warned.

The charity said their counterparts in the US and Canada have found a similar picture from the evidence.

Chris Gale, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Leeds and lead author of some of the studies cited, said: "This problem is not unique to the UK - studies across the globe have also revealed gender gaps in treatment, suggesting this is a deeply entrenched and complex issue.

"On their own, the differences in care are very small, but when we look at this across the population of the UK, it adds up to a significant loss of life. We can do better."

The BHF has identified a gender heart attack gap [Photo: Getty]
The BHF has identified a gender heart attack gap [Photo: Getty]

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This isn’t the first time the BHF has issued a warning about a potential heart attack gender gap.

Earlier this year research revealed that fewer women who have heart attacks would die if they got the same treatment as men.

Female patients were up to three times more likely to die in the first year after suffering the medical emergency than men, the study found.

The BHF said women who suffered a STEMI, the most serious form of heart attack, were more than a third less likely than male patients to undergo bypass surgery or get stents.

Last summer it was also revealed that the number of women who have a heart attack during pregnancy, or within six months of delivering their baby appears to be on the rise.

In a new study, published in the journal Mayo Clinical Proceedings, researchers looked at 49.8 million births.

Among the women who gave birth, 1,061 had a heart attack during their labour and delivery; 922 had heart attacks during their pregnancy, and 2,390 women had heart attacks after they gave birth.

Of the more than 55 million pregnancy-related hospitalisations, the study revealed that nearly 4,500 women had heart attacks during pregnancy, childbirth or in the six weeks after delivery.

Around 200 women died after having a heart attack, according to the findings.

Last December, a woman shared her heart attack symptoms on Twitter to spread awareness of how the symptoms can ‘feel different’ for women compared to men.

Taking to the social media platform, the US user detailed her experience, explaining that while chest pain is commonly associated with a heart attack, she felt none.