Health Team

Study: Women at higher risk for death after heart attack

Posted August 25, 2009 6:04 p.m. EDT
Updated August 25, 2009 7:25 p.m. EDT

Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death for both men and women in the United States. New research examined whether gender plays a role in recovery after a heart attack.

While out for a walk three years ago, Judith Schipper, who took part in the study, said she felt severe chest pains.

“It felt very tight and uncomfortable, and it's a very scary feeling,” Schipper said.

Schipper was suffering from unstable angina, which like a heart attack is considered an acute coronary syndrome.

“An acute coronary syndrome is basically an umbrella term that really looks at a combination of factors that are caused by the heart not getting enough oxygen,” said Dr. Jeffrey S. Berger, assistant professor of medicine and director of cardiovascular thrombosis at New York University.

Researchers, including those from Duke University Medical Center, looked at why death rates differ for men and women after acute coronary syndrome. The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found women are almost twice as likely as men to die within 30 days after a heart attack. Many factors contributed to the difference, researchers explained.

“Women tended to be older at the time of their acute coronary syndrome, as well as have a greater incidence of high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes,” Berger said.

In addition, men with acute coronary syndrome were more likely to have had a prior heart attack, or previous heart surgery.

Researchers said it shows the importance of personalizing care for better prevention and treatment strategies.

The same research team plans to continue to study gender disparities in cardiovascular disease, including mortality rates a year after a heart attack.