Doctors have known for years that men and women experience heart disease differently. In particular, before menopause, women are less likely to develop heart disease than men. Later, however, women quickly catch up, and heart disease is the leading cause of death for both sexes overall.
The new study generally changes the understanding of heart disease in women. Even heart attack symptoms in women are atypical and can include heartburn, back pain or pain that burns, pierces or resembles indigestion. However, new findings show that women are just as likely to experience the “classic” signs — chest pain and pain spreading down the left arm.
This is just one of several recent discoveries that shed light on sex-related differences in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. Women have fewer heart attacks than men, but they tend to be more severe. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, examined hospital data on nearly 7 million heart attack patients and found that women hospitalized with a heart attack were less likely than men to receive life-saving treatments such as angioplasty, which opens blocked arteries, and mechanical circulatory support.
Researchers also found that women under age 65 are more likely than men to die of a heart attack, especially when they suffer from the type in which the coronary artery is significantly but not completely blocked.
Although it has long been known that a dramatic drop in estrogen levels during menopause reduces the heart’s hormonal defenses, new research suggests that more suffering from menopausal flushes or sleep disturbances may signal an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.