Women less likely to have heart health checked by doctors

2 March 2017

Australian women are less likely than men to have heart disease risk factors assessed by doctors, a new study by the University of Sydney and The George Institute for Global Health reveals.

Published today in the journal Heart, the study of 53,000 patients says women were 12 percent less likely than men to have risk factors such as smoking status, blood pressure and total cholesterol measured during medical consultations.

Despite this difference, women at high risk for or with prevalent cardiovascular diseases were 12 percent more likely to have ‘appropriate’ preventive medications prescribed compared to men.

If these findings are representative, many women could be missing out on life saving treatment right now – simply because of their age and gender.
Karice Hyun, study leader and University of Sydney PhD student

Notably, these gender differences were dependent on age.

Younger women aged 35–54 years were 37 percent less likely than younger men to have blood pressure medications, statins or anti-platelets prescribed.

By contrast, older women aged 65 years or more were 34 percent more likely than older men to be prescribed these medications.

The proportion of women and men prescribed recommended medications were similar (47.9 percent vs 48 percent) but low overall and only 47.5 percent of patients at high risk for or with prevalent cardiovascular diseases received prescriptions.

Study co-author Julie Redfern said the results were especially concerning because more women than men die each year from cardiovascular disease.

“Unfortunately there is still the perception that heart disease is a man’s disease.

This is not the case here in Australia, the UK or the US and we fear that one of the reasons more women are dying from heart disease is because they are not being treated correctly, including not even being asked basic questions about their health.”

Associate Professor Redfern is Deputy Director, Cardiovascular Division at The George Institute for Global Health and the University of Sydney’s Medical School.

The report’s lead author Karice Hyun, who is working on the study as part of her University of Sydney PhD, said it was “unacceptable that more than half of young women in this study did not receive appropriate heart health medications.

“These medications can greatly reduce the likelihood of having a heart attack or stroke. If these findings are representative, many women could be missing out on life saving treatment right now – simply because of their age and gender.

“This fundamentally needs to change. We need a system wide solution to addressing these very worrying gaps in heart disease-related healthcare to ensure women are treated equally across the health system.”

Associate Professor Redfern added: “These findings really show that we need to do a better job of preventing and tackling CVD for all Australians if we have any hope to reducing the death toll.”

Fast facts on heart health

  • Despite decreasing mortality rates due to cardiovascular disease (CVD) in many countries, it remains the leading cause of death worldwide for both women and men.
  • In Australia, as in the United States and the UK, women have a higher number of cardiovascular deaths per year than men (23 755 vs 21 867 deaths in 2012).
  • Women with diabetes have over 40 percent greater excess risk of coronary heart disease and nearly 30 percent higher relative risk for stroke compared with men with diabetes.
  • More research is needed to uncover the reasons for these female disadvantages. One possibility is that women are less often recognised as being prone to CVD than men and are thus less likely to receive a timely diagnosis and to receive appropriate treatment after a positive diagnosis.

Dan Gaffney

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