Two women a day are dying unnecessarily from heart attacks in England and Wales because of a gender gap in awareness, diagnosis and treatment, a leading health charity says.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) released research on Monday that estimates that more than 8,200 women died between 2003 and 2013 as a result of receiving worse treatment than men.
The charity wants to end the misconception that heart attacks are a male disease and to encourage women to know the risks and symptoms – twice as many women in the UK die of coronary heart disease than of breast cancer.
As well as being more likely to receive substandard treatment, women suffer 50% higher rates of misdiagnosis and poorer aftercare, the BHF said – greatly increasing the risk of death.
Additionally, certain risk factors can be more dangerous for women. One of the studies suggests that smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes increase the likelihood of heart attacks more in women than in men.
A global review has also shown that women are, on the whole, slower to seek medical help than men. The time between symptoms first appearing and arrival at hospital varies from 1 hour 24 minutes to 3 hours 30 minutes for men. For women, it was between 1 hour 48 minutes and 7 hours 12 minutes.
Myths about “female” heart attack symptoms persist, although, as for men, the most common symptom is chest pain.
Other symptoms include feeling sick, sweaty, short of breath or light-headed. Less common symptoms are excessive coughing or wheezing, or a sudden feeling of anxiety.
Dr. Sonya Babu-Narayan,the BHF’s Associate Medical Director, said: “Heart attacks have never been more treatable. Yet women are dying needlessly because heart attacks are often seen as a man’s disease, and women don’t receive the same standard of treatment as men.
The studies detailed in this briefing have revealed inequalities at every stage of a woman’s medical journey. The reasons for this are complex to dissect. Together, we must change this.”
Chris Gale, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Leeds and the lead author of some of the studies, said: “This problem is not unique to the UK – studies across the globe have also revealed gender-gaps in treatment, suggesting this is a deeply entrenched and complex issue.
“On their own, the differences in care are very small, but when we look at this across the population of the UK, it adds up to a significant loss of life. We can do better.”
The BHF says around 35,000 women a year are admitted to hospital in the UK after a heart attack, equating to an average of 98 women a day.