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Oct 21, 2015

Women Less Likely to Take Medication to Prevent Second Heart Attack

Women are either less likely than men to receive a prescription for preventive medication or to fill the prescription.

A study recently published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes analyzed the use of blood pressure and cholesterol medications in Canadian heart attack survivors. These heart medications help significantly reduce risk of a second heart attack. As such, guidelines recommend the use of cholesterol and blood pressure drugs in heart attack survivors. However, research shows that women are less likely than men to receive such therapy.  

To explore this gender disparity, researchers at the University of British Columbia analyzed the health records of 12,261 Canadian patients surviving heart attacks between 2007 and 2009. Roughly one-third of patients were female, and on average, female heart attack survivors were almost 7 years older than their male counterparts.

Based on prescription records, more than two-thirds of patients filled prescriptions for cholesterol-lowering statins or blood pressure-lowering drugs within two months of their heart attack. However, only one-third of all survivors consistently filled prescriptions after a year, suggesting a lack of medication adherence (taking meds as prescribed) across the board.

Researchers also found that prescription use differed among male and female heart attack survivors. Young men under 55 years old were 38% more likely than young women to start medication in the first few months after their heart attack. Interestingly, there was no difference in medication adherence among men and women once they started treatment.

As authors explain, findings highlight a few key concerns regarding treatment and prevention. First, treatment adherence is poor in male and female heart attack survivors alike. Although most patients start taking preventive medications after a heart attack, many fail to take their drugs consistently and as prescribed.

Findings also confirm that young women are less likely to receive optimal therapy after a heart attack compared to men. Since medication adherence is the same among men and women, this disparity is likely due to differences in prescription behavior. Women are either less likely to receive a prescription for preventive medication after a heart attack or less likely to fill the prescription.

Since cholesterol and blood pressure-lowering medications can be lifesaving for heart attack survivors, increasing use of preventive medication is a must. It’s important that doctors discuss treatment options with patients, especially women. Efforts are also needed to help patients take medication properly over the long run. Together, these steps will help ensure that all heart attack survivors receive optimal treatment for reducing risk of a second heart event.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What are health disparities?
  • Health disparities refer to differences in health outcomes or burdens of disease between groups of people. Health disparities can exist between different populations of race, sex, income, or even geographic location. In health care, the goal is to eliminate these differences so all individuals have the same ability to achieve good health.
  • How can I help prevent a second heart attack?
  • Patients with a history of heart attack have significantly increased risk of a second heart event. Participating in a cardiac rehabilitation program can help patients regain strength after a heart attack and teach individuals how to prevent a second heart attack, like by quitting smoking, reducing blood pressure, staying active, eating healthy, and adhering to therapies advised by the doctor.

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