Heart attacks hit women hardest

November 25, 2013 - 06:46

Swedish analyses show that women are more apt than men to die shortly after a heart attack.

Women lose their longevity advantage on men once they suffer a myocardial infarction, more commonly called a heart attack. (Photo: iStockphoto)

Disparities between ways the serious heart condition impacts men and women are detailed in a recent doctoral dissertation at Sahlgrenska Academy in Gothenburg, Sweden.

“Women normally live longer than men. But the results show that women who suffer heart attacks lose their advantage,” says Researcher Johanna Berg.

She has studied the outcomes for women and men aged 35-55 after being hospitalised with their first heart attack in the years 2005-2010.

Berg’s results show that nearly four out of one hundred Swedish women in this age group die within a month of their first myocardial infarction.

“The mortality rate was 63 percent higher than for men,” she announced in a press release from Gothenburg University.

The data was extracted from Sweden’s National Patient Register Cause of Death Register.

Simultaneous diseases

Berg thinks this gender difference in mortality can be partially explained by the fact that a larger share of the female heart attack victims also had additional health problems, including hypertension, diabetes, strokes or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

“Those factors raise the risk of death,” states Berg.

Women’s risk drops somewhat in a model that adjusts for multiple diseases – to about 44 percent higher for them than men a month after the heart attack.

In the age group from 55-65 the risk of dying from a heart attack is 14 percent higher among women after cancelling out the effect of other diseases.

When the researcher checked out the survivability one year after the heart attack the mortality rate evened out and was the same for both sexes.

Indicating a shift

Norwegian research from 2011 based on the Tromsø Study, which was initiated decades earlier to help combat the country’s high incidence of cardiovascular diseases, also points toward women being more likely than men to suffer myocardial infarctions.

In the broad age group ranging from 35 to 79, more women than men suffered heart attacks.
In its conclusion, the 2011 study indicates that we are witnessing a shift in which middle-aged to elderly women are being struck by the disease more than middle-aged men.

These Norwegian results, published in The European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation, show a general decline in the share of persons who die or suffer permanent disablement from a heart attack.

Still costing the most lives

Women are on average older than men when they suffer their first heart attack.

Chest pains are the most common symptom of a myocardial infarction among both sexes. But women report more symptoms than men, such as dizziness, abnormal heartbeat rates and back pains.

Although the cardiovascular disease mortality rate has dropped in Norway since the Tromsø Study started up in 1974, such illnesses are still the country’s most common cause of death.

In 2011, 6,957 women and 6,007 men died of cardiovascular diseases in this country, according to the Norwegian Heart and Lung Patient Organization. 

By comparison, cancer took the lives of 5,021 women and 5,817 men in Norway in 2011.

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Translated by
Glenn Ostling