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Women face a 20% increased risk of developing heart failure or dying within five years after their first severe heart attack compared with men, according to new research published today in the American Heart Association's flagship journal Circulation.
Previous research looking at sex differences in heart health has often focused on recurrent heart attack or death. However, the differences in vulnerability to heart failure between men and women after heart attack remains unclear.
To study this gap, researchers analyzed data on more than 45,000 patients (30.8% women) hospitalized for a first heart attack between 2002-2016 in Alberta, Canada. They focused on two types of heart attack: a severe, life-threatening heart attack called ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), and a less severe type called Non-STEMI or NSTEMI, the latter of which is more common. Patients were followed for an average of 6.2 years.
Women were older and faced a variety of complications and more risk factors that may have put them at a greater risk for heart failure after a heart attack.
In addition to the elevated risk for heart failure among women, researchers found:
"Identifying when and how women may be at higher risk for heart failure after a heart attack can help providers develop more effective approaches for prevention," said lead study author Justin A. Ezekowitz, M.B.B.Ch., M.Sc., a cardiologist and co-director of the Canadian VIGOUR Centre at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. "Better adherence to reducing cholesterol, controlling high blood pressure, getting more exercise, eating a healthy diet and stopping smoking, combined with recognition of these problems earlier in life would save thousands of lives of women -- and men."
Based on these findings, study co-author Padma Kaul, Ph.D., co-director of the Canadian VIGOUR Centre, said the next step is to further examine if all patients are receiving the best care, particularly women, and where interventions can address oversights.
"Close enough is not good enough," said Kaul, who is also the Sex and Gender Science Chair from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. "There are gaps across diagnosis, access, quality of care, and follow-up for all patients, so we need to be vigilant, pay attention to our own biases and to those most vulnerable to ensure that we have done everything possible in providing the best treatment."