Women are receiving worse care after a heart attack than men, resulting in unnecessary and avoidable deaths, according to an analysis of almost 200,000 Swedish patients.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Leeds and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, assessed the outcomes of 180,368 patients who had a heart attack over a decade long period.
It found that women were less likely to receive appropriate forms of care – for example, surgery, aspirin or statins – than men after having a serious form of heart attack called a STEMI. When they were given the recommended forms of treatment after the attack, women fared just as well as men.
Prof Chris Gale, from the University of Leeds and Co-author of the study, said such a gender divide is present in the UK too: ‘There's misconception amongst the general public and healthcare professionals about what heart attack patients are like.
‘Typically, when we think of a heart attack patient, we see a middle-aged man who is overweight, has diabetes and smokes. This is not always the case; heart attacks affect the wider spectrum of the population - including women.’
Almost 200,000 people in the UK – about 125,00 men and 70,000 women – are hospitalised due to heart attacks every year.
With the UK having some of the highest rates of cardiovascular disease and obesity in the EU, and Sweden having one of the lowest mortality rates for heart attacks in the world, the number of preventable deaths in the UK is likely to be far greater than observed in this study.
‘Sweden is a leader in healthcare, with one of the lowest mortality rates from heart attacks, yet we still see this disparity in treatment and outcomes between men and women,’ said Prof Gale.
Prof Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the study, said: ‘Heart attacks are often seen as a male health issue, but more women die from coronary heart disease than breast cancer in the UK. The findings from this research are concerning – women are dying because they are not receiving proven treatments to save lives after a heart attack.
‘We urgently need to raise awareness of this issue as it’s something that can be easily changed. By simply ensuring more women receive the recommended treatments, we’ll be able to help more families avoid the heartbreak of losing a loved one to heart disease.’