Why Heart Failure Is More Deadly for Women Than Men

For years, women with heart attacks and failure were being ignored or misdiagnosed in hospitals because they did not have the same symptoms as men. Thankfully, through public health campaigns and increased awareness, that's changing, but according to a new study, women are still dying from heart failure at higher rates than men. 

The research, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, looked at the records of more than 90,000 people in Ontario, Canada, who had been newly diagnosed with heart failure over a five-year period (from 2009 to 2013). Within one year of being diagnosed, 16.8 percent of women died compared with 14.9 percent of men.

What is happening?

“There’s something that we’re doing right in men that we’re not doing right in women, so that’s why we really need to raise awareness of this,” Dr. Louise Sun, one of the principal investigators of the study told the Windsor Star.

More: Knowing the Symptoms of a Heart Attack & Cardiac Arrest in Women Could Save a Life

Despite seeing an overall decrease in deaths from heart disease over the five-year period, they stayed higher in women. The study also found that around 10 percent of women were admitted to the hospital because of cardiovascular events compared to 9 percent of men.

“The mortality for heart failure for women is not improving, the survival is not improving to the same extent as with men,” Dr. Lisa Mielniczuk, clinical epidemiologist, cardiologist and coauthor of the study, told the Windsor Sun. “We didn’t expect to see such a marked gender difference.”

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As a reminder, heart failure is different from a heart attack. Heart failure is a chronic condition, which means that the heart is not pumping blood to the rest of the body as well as it should be according to the American Heart Association. Symptoms include weakness, fatigue and shortness of breath. Some patients with heart failure may initially come to the hospital having a heart attack, but aren't always diagnosed with heart failure, which is the most common reason for people to be admitted to the hospital after age 65, Mielniczuk said.

Why is this happening?

But why are women dying from heart failure at higher rates than men? As it turns out, much like heart attacks, women have a different type of heart failure than men: one that's harder to diagnose and treat, Sun told the Windsor Star.

In addition, she explained that the higher hospitalization and death rates in women with heart failure might be because women aren't being diagnosed early enough or potentially misdiagnosed. For example, a woman with shortness of breath could be mislabeled as having a lung condition instead of a heart failure, Sun added.

So how can things improve? The authors point to the fact that more research is needed in this area to be better understand how cardiovascular disease affects women as well as having doctors become more familiar with women's specific symptoms. 

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