Heart Failure Different in Women
Study Explores Gender Differences in Risk Factors, Survival
July 27, 2009 -- Women with heart failure live longer than men with the
disease, but they have more illness and hospitalizations and poorer overall
quality of life, a review of the research shows.
The analysis confirms that men and women often have different risk factors
for developing heart failure, and it suggests that responses to treatment may
also vary by gender.
But study co-author Eileen M. Hsich, MD, of Cleveland Clinic’s Women’s Heart
Failure Clinic, says far too little is known about how gender affects treatment
because women are still underrepresented in clinical studies and most heart
failure trials do not report results in a sex-specific way.
“These treatments must be working because women are living longer than men,
but we don’t know as much as we should about this,” she tells WebMD. “In
order to change the future, more women with heart failure or any cardiovascular
disease, need to be aggressive about participating in studies. They should not
wait for their doctor to approach them.”
Half of Heart Failure Patients Are Women
According to the American Heart Association, about 5.3 million Americans are
living with heart failure, and half of them are women.
Heart failure describes the inability of the heart to pump enough blood to
meet the body’s demands.
It be caused by a weakened heart muscle that doesn’t contract with enough
force to push blood out to the body (systolic heart failure) or because the
pumping chamber does not relax properly, reducing the amount of blood available
to enter the heart (diastolic heart failure).
According to the review, which appears in the Aug. 4 issue of the Journal
of the American College of Cardiology, about 70% of men with heart failure
have a weakened heart muscle as the cause, compared to about 40% of women.
Women are more likely than men to have high blood pressure and heart valve
damage as the cause of heart failure; men are more likely to have coronary
But when women do develop coronary artery disease, they are more likely than
men to also develop heart failure.
In one national survey, which included more than 8,000 women with heart
failure, more than a fourth (27%) had high blood pressure and just 3% had
coronary artery disease.
But having coronary artery disease was more likely to lead to heart failure
among women than high blood pressure.
Other sex-specific differences identified in the review included:
- As with heart disease in general, women tend to be older than men when they
develop heart failure.
- Survival among women with heart failure is better than for men with the
disease. The reasons for this remain unclear.
- Women with heart failure are more likely to be sicker than men and have
more hospital stays. They are also more likely to suffer from depression than