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Heart Disease and Gender Bias

September 24, 2010

Recent statistics show significant differences between men and women in survival following a heart attack. For example, 42 percent of women who have heart attacks die within 1 year compared with 24 percent of men.

The reasons for these differences are not well understood. We know that women tend to get heart disease about 10 years later in life than men, and they are more likely to have coexisting chronic conditions.

heart health and gender biasResearch also has shown that women may not be diagnosed or treated as aggressively as men, and their symptoms may be very different from those of men who are having a heart attack.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) supports a vigorous women's health research program, including research focused on CVD and other chronic illnesses. AHRQ-supported projects are addressing women's access to quality health care services, accurate diagnoses, appropriate referrals for procedures, and optimal use of proven therapies.

The following are summaries of program briefs from research done between 2005-2008.

  • Variables in the care of lipid control and diabetes management may explain some of the male-female differences in cardiovascular disease outcomes.
  • Commercial health plans show disparities between women and men in cardiovascular care. These disparities were even greater among Medicare managed care plans.
  • Among heart disease patients, women are less likely than men to use low-dose aspirin therapy.
  • Women with acute myocardial infarction (AMI) or congestive heart failure (CHF) did not receive the same care as men.
  • Immunosuppression related to transfusion may explain women's increased risk of dying after coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery.
  • Women with atherosclerosis and high cholesterol receive less intense cholesterol management than men.
  • Management of chest pain differs by sex and race. More men than women received definitive diagnoses of angina, while more women than men were diagnosed with vague chest pain. Also, women and minorities received fewer cardiovascular medications.