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Heart Disease: Women Tougher Than Men?

Study: Women Underrate Severity of Their Heart Disease
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Downplaying Heart Disease

The reasons for the differences aren't totally clear. Doctor's attitudes and lack of awareness have been "leading suspects," says Kim Eagle, MD, in a news release.

However, "no one has examined differences in [men's and women's] attitudes," Eagle continues. Eagle is a professor of internal medicine and the clinical director of the University of Michigan's Cardiovascular Center.

"Although our study cannot prove that women's 'toughness' influences their tendency to seek and accept aggressive care for their heart problems, we hope it prompts further investigation of this question," Eagle says.

Heart Patient Survey

The researchers mailed surveys to about 1,200 people seen at the University of Michigan Hospital from 1999-2002 for problems including heart attacks and unstable angina (chest pain).

Only 40% of the patients responded. Men and women were equally likely to respond, and they seemed similar to people who didn't respond, the researchers note.

Male and female participants had similar backgrounds, in terms of race and their type of heart problem. However, the women tended to be older, less educated, had more heart symptoms, and took more prescription drugs.

Patients completed several surveys. In one survey, they rated the severity of their heart disease on a five-point scale ranging from "very mild" to "very severe."

About 42% of men and women called their disease "very mild" or "mild." Equal percentages opted for more severe categories.

Important Implications

"The implications of the findings of this study are not trivial," the researchers write.

"It is known that women delay seeking medical care when they experience symptoms of acute [sudden] coronary syndrome. Women are also less likely to be selected for invasive treatments such as angioplasty or coronary artery bypass graft surgery," they continue.

"The fact that women perceive the severity of illness to be no greater than men do, even when the clinical evidence suggests they have more severe disease, may help explain some of the variation in care-seeking behavior and treatment decisions between men and women," the researchers conclude.

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