Heart Attack Survival in Women: An Unfortunate Stereotype

It never ceases to surprise me how some images seem to stick with us.

Consider the icon of a famous sneaker manufacturer and the
gazelle-like young athlete who wears the product. Think about a night
time cold medicine and the caring, calm and composed young mother
tucking in her sniffling child. Imagine the typical heart attack
victim and see the overweight gray-haired business executive clutching
his chest and falling over at a corporate business meeting or during
an argument.

You might be saying to yourself that such stereotypes are no more than
mere advertising associations. It doesn’t take a stretch of the
imagination to realize that out of shape weekend warriors wear Nikes,
that mothers who care for ill children don’t always have every hair in
place at 2:00 am, and that victims of heart attacks aren’t always
older businessmen.

Yet in the medical field, such associations can sometimes be deadly – especially in the context of heart attacks and women. Let’s take a
few moments to consider a fascinating study.

According to an October 1998 report in the Journal of the American
Medical Association (JAMA), the death rate for women within the first
month after a heart attack was more than double that of the male.
Research including 331 women and 1,129 men under the age of 80 with a
first heart attack demonstrated a death rate for women at 18.5%
compared with only 8.3% for the men.

Dr. Nanette Wenger of Emory University School of Medicine noted:

  • The women were older.
  • The women had more associated diseases like diabetes.
  • The women did not receive the same intensity of care as the men.
  • The women did not receive the same follow-up care as the men.
  • The women were less likely to be referred early on for balloon
    angioplasty (to improve blood flow to the heart) or bypass surgery.

  • The women didn’t seem to realize they were at risk for heart attacks.

While one might assume from these statistics that heart disease is
more lethal in women than in men, such is not the case. According to
a 1998 study in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation,
there is no gender difference in death rates for men and women who are
hospitalized for angioplasty or bypass surgery. In fact, the 5-year
survival rates for men and women after these procedures is virtually
the same (88% and 87% respectively).

In order to more fully understand this data, consider the following facts from the American Heart Association:

  • Each year, 500,000 women suffer heart attacks.
  • 63% of women who died of a heart attack had no prior symptoms
  • 50% of women over the age of 55 are at risk for heart disease based upon elevated blood pressure alone.
  • 20% of women who have suffered a heart attack will experience a second attack within 4 years
  • Menopausal women who take estrogen are 50% less likely to develop heart disease.

Here’s the statistic, however, that’s most shocking. In 1995, 256,844
American women died of all types of cancer combined. This number
represents less than one half the number of deaths attributable to
heart disease! Now, compare the level of media coverage that breast
cancer receives compared to heart disease in women.

It’s obvious that early diagnosis and education are the keys to
preventing and effectively treating heart disease – especially in women.

It’s time we worked together to inform and educate women and men at
risk, while ensuring the needed vigilance for early diagnosis and
treatment. We can make a sizable difference when we take this to
heart – Mind Over Matter!

© 2000 Barry Bittman,
MD all rights reserved

Barry Bittman, MD is a neurologist, author, international speaker, inventor and researcher. He is the CEO and Director of the Mind-Body Wellness Center, 18201 Conneaut Lake Road in Meadville, phone (814) 724-1765, fax (814) 333-8662, http://www.mind-body.org.

Contact Dr. Bittman

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Written by Barry Bittman MD

Explore Wellness in 2021