Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States. But that doesn’t mean heart disease affects men and women equally. Women 55 years and younger have about twice the risk of death from a heart attack than similarly aged men. Among those who survive a heart attack, women have significantly greater risk of death compared to men.
To learn more about gender differences related to heart attack, researchers analyzed data from the VIRGO study (Variation in Recovery: Role of Gender on Outcomes of Young Acute MI Patients) and recently published findings in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Conducted from 2008–2012, this study included more than 3,500 heart attack patients treated at hospitals in U.S. and Spain. Participants were between 18–55 years old, two-thirds of whom were women.
Using a combination of interviews and medical records, researchers assessed participants’ heart health and perception of cardiovascular risk before their heart attack. Overall, researchers found that awareness of cardiovascular risk was low in adults under 55. While nearly all patients had at least one risk factor for heart disease, only half of patients considered themselves to be at risk before their heart attack. Fewer than half reported being told they were at-risk or should take steps to reduce their risk.
Researchers also found that awareness of cardiovascular risk was especially low among women. Women were 11% less likely than men to be told by a health care provider that they were at risk for heart disease. Women were also 16% less likely than men to be counseled on steps to reduce their cardiovascular risk.
Findings highlight the need for increased awareness for cardiovascular risk, particularly in women and young adults. Although heart disease is considered a disease of older age, heart disease does affect young adults. These days, even young adults tend to have risk factors for heart disease like overweight, diabetes and high blood pressure.
That’s why, as authors explain, increased awareness and counseling on risk modification is essential. Young adults, especially women, need to be more aware of the factors that put them at increased risk for heart disease and heart attack. Once patients understand their own risk, they can then take steps to reduce risk and potentially prevent ever having a heart attack.