Women Face Different Heart Risks than Men, Study Finds

Burlington, MA (February 1, 2016) – Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women, but according to a recent study from the American Heart Association, heart attacks and heart disease continue to be underdiagnosed and untreated in women.

The statement, which was published in the medical journal Circulation, is the first scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA) on heart attacks in women.

“It’s also important to note this study recognizes that heart disease outcomes for minority women are much worse than they are for Caucasian women,” said Paula Kinnunen, MD, director of the Cardiovascular Health Center for Women at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center. “This is an important area where we need to improve.”

According to the AHA, a woman’s heart attack may have different underlying causes, symptoms and outcomes compared to men.

“Most of us know the common symptom of heart attack is chest pain,” said Dr. Kinnunen. “But for women, the symptoms may be different. They could suffer from a sudden shortness of breath, intense nausea or sweating, a sense of dread, or even extreme back and jaw pain.”

However, the risk factors for women tend to be the same as men – high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking – but young women under the age of 40 with diabetes are four to five times more likely than men to develop heart disease, according to the AHA.

But the best form of prevention, according to Dr. Kinnunen, is a healthy diet and exercise.

“We really need to focus on prevention,” said Dr. Kinnunen. “Outcomes for women diagnosed with heart disease are not as good as for men, and they have an increased risk of complications with coronary bypass surgery.”

However, the success rates for both men and women who have heart disease have been increasing over the past two decades, but there is still a large disparity between the sexes.

“Despite all the advances we’ve made, we need to better understand how to improve the treatment of women with heart disease,” Dr. Kinnunen said. “We need more research into this subject in order to better prevent and manage heart disease in all women.”

About Lahey Health

Lahey Health is what's next in health care, providing a full continuum of integrated health services close to where you live or work. It is comprised of nationally recognized, award-winning hospitals—including an academic hospital and medical center, and community hospitals—primary care providers, specialist physicians, behavioral health services, post-acute programs such as home health services, skilled nursing and rehabilitation facilities, and senior care resources located throughout northeastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire.

Lahey Health offers nearly 1,400 locally based physicians providing clinical excellence and an exceptional patient experience in adult and pediatric primary care and every medical specialty, including kidney and liver transplantation; cancer, cardiovascular and orthopedic medical and surgical care; local emergency and trauma care; urological surgery; chronic disease prevention and health management; and pediatric emergency, newborn and inpatient care provided in collaboration with Boston Children's Hospital physicians.

Lahey Health includes Lahey Hospital & Medical Center—a teaching hospital of Tufts University School of Medicine—and Lahey Clinic physician group with practices in Burlington, Peabody and other locations throughout northeastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire; Beverly Hospital; Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester, Mass.; Lahey Health Senior Care and Lahey Health Behavioral Services as well as more than 30 primary care physician practices and multiple outpatient and satellite specialty care facilities.

Together, we are making innovative, integrated healthcare more personal and more accessible. For more information, visit LaheyHealth.org and its member websites Lahey Hospital & Medical CenterBeverly Hospital, and Lahey Health Behavioral Services.

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