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Study: Women fare worse than men after heart attack

While statistics show more women have complications or die within five years after a first heart attack, researchers said more work is needed to understand why.
By Stephen Feller   |   Jan. 26, 2016 at 10:08 AM

BOSTON, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- Women have different causes and symptoms of heart disease than men, which are more deadly if not caught, according to a scientific statement from the American Heart Association.

Symptoms of heart attack in women can be atypical or vague, risk factors are more potent, and there are more instances of spontaneous events, the researchers said. Many heart attacks in men are caused by the buildup of plaques in arteries, but women often have no significant blockages.

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"Over the last 10 years or so, we've learned that women's hearts are different than men's in some significant ways, and while that's helped reduce mortality, there's much more to know," said Dr. Laxmi Mehta, a cardiologist at the Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center, in a press release. "Most heart disease research is done in men, so how we categorize it is based on men. We need more science in women."

The scientific statement, published in the journal Circulation, lays out several additional risk factors for heart attack in women, based on what researchers write is 6.6 million women effected by coronary heart disease each year. Of the women affected, about 2.7 million have a history of heart problems.

Regardless of age, researchers found 26 percent of women die within a year of their first heart attack, as opposed to 19 percent of men. Within five years of a first heart attack, 47 percent of women die, have heart failure, or have a stroke, while 36 percent of men experience one of the three.

Researchers point out several differences between men and women that lead to the increased mortality, including women's symptoms of back, arm, neck or jaw pain -- which may nor may not include the chest pain men feel -- and that they wait significantly longer than men to get treated.

For women, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure were seen to pose a greater risk of heart attack, and depression increases the risk of heart attack in women by 50 percent, though researchers said they are unsure why.

Mehta said the differences require women to pay more attention to symptoms, however she also stresses that more research is needed because most heart attack research relates to men. The knowledge gaps remain, at least partially, because of "both bias and biology," she said in a press release.

"We don't yet clearly understand why women have different causes and symptoms of heart attacks," Mehta said. "Women are more complex, there are more biological variables such as hormonal fluctuations. That's why more research is needed."

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