Women With Chest Pain Get Less Treatment
Risk Doesn't Explain Gender Disparity, Study Shows
More Questions Than Answers
Anand says the new findings raise more questions than they answer about the causes of gender differences in the treatment of heart disease. It has been suggested that women's symptoms are often less apparent than men's or that women may be less willing to agree to invasive procedures.
And despite increasing awareness that heart disease is a serious threat to women, the experts say that many doctors may still view it as primarily a man's disease.
Half a million American women die of heart disease each year, according to the American Heart Association. More women die of heart-related causes than of the next six causes of death combined.
"Physicians do treat women and men differently, even though most will tell you that they don't," say University of California, San Francisco Medical Center cardiologist Rita Redberg, MD, MSc. "Unconscious factors may affect people's judgment."
But Redberg tells WebMD that it isn't clear from the study if women were having too few invasive heart procedures or men were having too many.
In the newly reported study, high-risk women did not have a higher incidence of cardiovascular death, heart attack, or stroke than high-risk men, even though they often received less aggressive treatment. They did have more repeat hospital visits for chest pain, however.
Anand says physicians need to take better advantage of tools designed to assess a patient's risk level. High-risk patients in the study -- both men and women -- had four times the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death from cardiovascular causes as low-risk patients.
"All high-risk patients should be treated equally without regard to gender," she says.