Champlain Primary Care Digest

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Major Statement on Heart Attack in Women

Every year for more than three decades, cardiovascular disease has killed more women than men in North America. While that gap has been narrowing, it still remains. On January 26, the American Heart Association (AHA) issued its first scientific statement on heart attack in women in the journal Circulation.

The AHA released the statement as a comprehensive summary of what the cardiovascular community knows about heart attack in women: its causes, presentation, treatment and outcomes. No matter their age, more women than men die within a year of their first heart attack (26 per cent of women compared with 19 per cent of men). However, women are on average older at the time of first heart attack: 71.8 years compared with 65 for men. This difference explains, in part, the higher mortality that continues to be seen in women five to 10 years after a heart attack.

Although risk factors for heart disease are shared between men and women, some factors—such as high blood pressure, and diabetes in younger women—seem to confer greater risk to women than men. Symptoms of a heart attack can also differ between women and men, a fact that many Canadian women are unaware of.

Women in general seek treatment later for a heart attack than men, which may contribute to poorer outcomes. Women are less frequently referred for appropriate treatment during a heart attack compared with men and, following a heart attack, are less likely to use guideline-recommended medical therapies. Less than 20 per cent of women eligible for cardiac rehabilitation have participated over the last three decades, and even with a referral to rehabilitation, women participate and complete it less frequently than men.

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