A new study into heart disease, by the American College of Cardiology, has found that there are differences between genders in how heart disease is caused, and yet the most common systems of heart disease are the same in men and women. That is chest pain and shortness of breath. This is, apparently, in contrast to previous findings. The study involved the largest group of women ever enrolled in a heart disease study. It found that women have a greater number and variety of heart risk factors than men; however, health care providers in the US, generally, characterise women as at lower risk of developing heart disease.
Prior data relating to heart disease and differences due to gender has indicated that women were less likely to produce the typical heart diseases symptoms. It was thought that women were more likely to complain of back pain, abdominal pain and fatigue when presenting with heart disease. The results of this study did not support that line of thinking. The study found that women were on average three years older than men when reporting a heart attack, more often non-white, less likely to be overweight and to smoke, but more likely to have high cholesterol, high blood pressure and a sedentary lifestyle. Family history of early onset heart disease and depression were also far greater in women; the study found.
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How the two genders described the chest pains was very different as well. Women would report the chest pain as crushing, squeezing, pressure and tightness. Whereas men described their chest pain as aching, dull, burning and/or pins and needles. Both sexes reported shortness of breath as a symptom of their heart attack.
Kshipra Hemal of the Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina, who was the lead author of this study, stated that the most important message for women from this study is that they are equally at risk of developing heart disease as their male counterparts. Their risk factors may be different but the symptoms of blockages in the heart’s arteries are fundamentally the same as those of men. This study only looked at the diagnostic process and not at the differences in outcomes for men and women. The next stage will be to examine those differences and how the differences already identified in this study influence outcomes. The large numbers involved in this study provide increasing validity to the findings produced. Corporate sponsors of studies such as these are always welcome in the quest for solutions to heart disease.