Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Why the Increase in Heart Attack Rates Among Women?
Each year, about 1.2 million Americans suffer heart attacks, and roughly 40 percent die from them. Men, in general, are at an increased risk of heart attack, at least until women reach menopause and lose the protective effect of the estrogen hormone, when the risk among genders becomes almost equal. But a new study shows the gender gap has also narrowed between middle-aged men and women—meaning that either hormonal influence isn’t protecting women in midlife as well as in the past or that not enough emphasis is being given to women’s cardiovascular health.
The new study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, analyzed national survey data on more than 8,000 men and women aged 35 to 54 from 1988 through 1994 and from 1999 through 2004. Researchers looked at heart attack rates and compared those scores using a tool called Framingham coronary risk score, which takes into account age, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and smoking history, and predicts the risk of a having a heart attack in 10 years. In both time periods, men had more heart attacks than women, but the rates of men improved from 2.5 percent in the earlier period to 2.2 percent in the latter time frame; women’s rates increased from 0.7 percent to 1 percent.
Over the two study periods, the men’s cardiovascular risk factors improved or remained stable, whereas the only risk factor that improved in women was high-density lipoprotein levels. Lead author Dr. Amytis Towfighi, assistant professor of clinical neurology at the University of Southern California and chairwoman of the neurology department at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, says this suggests that precursors to heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, are not assessed or treated as aggressively in women. “There have been several studies that have found women have their risk factors checked less frequently than men,” she said. “When they are checked, women are less likely to receive medication than men. And when they receive medication, their symptoms are not as controlled as much as men.”