Women are up to three times more likely to die after having a heart attack than men because they are not getting the same treatments, a study has found.
If women in the UK received the same medical care as men in the year following a heart attack, many more would live, researchers said.
Treatments that women miss out on include bypass surgery and stents, wire-mesh tubes that are placed in arteries to help keep them open.
Common drug treatments – such as statins and aspirin – are also less likely to be prescribed for women.
Diagnosing women is harder because women are less likely to report the symptom of chest pain and are more likely to complain about less specific symptoms such as breathlessness
The heart attack survival gender gap may be because both women patients and medical staff are more likely to see the disease as a ‘male issue’.
Some 69,000 women have a heart attack in the UK every year, compared to 119,000 men, but women struck by the disease are more likely to die as a result.
Diagnosing women is harder because women are less likely to report the symptom of chest pain.
Instead, they are more likely to complain about less specific symptoms – such as breathlessness or neck pain.
Sometimes these symptoms get confused with indigestion, muscle pain or anxiety, or even an allergic reaction.
But it is less clear why women are not receiving similar treatment to men after being diagnosed.
Researchers led by Dr Chris Gale of Leeds University and colleagues from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute analysed the outcomes of 180,368 patients who suffered a heart attack between the start of 2003 and the end of 2013.
Looking at the gender of those who had heart attacks, as well as the age at which they were hospitalised, scientists calculated the ‘excess mortality’ – the measure of how much a patient’s life has been cut short – for both, and found the figure was three times higher for women.
Women were 24 per cent less likely to be prescribed statins, which help to prevent a second heart attack, and 16 per cent less likely to be given aspirin, which helps to prevent blood clots
Though women are more likely to suffer from illnesses such as diabetes, scientists said this alone did not account for the disparity, and found females were missing out on recommended standard treatments for the disease.
Women who suffered a heart attack because their coronary artery was blocked by a blood clot were 34 per cent less likely to receive treatments such as stents.
They were 24 per cent less likely to be prescribed statins, which help to prevent a second heart attack, and 16 per cent less likely to be given aspirin, which helps to prevent blood clots.
Damningly, when they received all of the treatments recommended for patients who have suffered a heart attack, the excess mortality gap between the sexes fell dramatically.
The researchers, whose work was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, said that while the analysis uses Swedish data, treatment guidelines for patients who have suffered from a heart attack are comparable across Europe.
Chris Gale, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and Honorary Consultant Cardiologist at the University of Leeds, who co-authored the study, said: ‘We need to work harder to shift the perception that heart attacks only affect a certain type of person.
‘Typically, when we think of a heart attack patient, we see a middle-aged man who is overweight, has diabetes and smokes. This is not always the case; heart attacks affect the wider spectrum of the population.
‘The findings from this study suggest that there are clear and simple ways to improve the outcomes of women who have a heart attack – we must ensure equal provision of evidence-based treatments for women.’
He added that while women were ‘more challenging’ to diagnose, it was not clear why they were being given different treatment to men.
Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘Heart attacks are often seen as a male health issue, but more women die from coronary heart disease than breast cancer in the UK.
‘The findings from this research are concerning – women are dying because they are not receiving proven treatments to save lives after a heart attack … By simply ensuring more women receive the recommended treatments, we’ll be able to help more families avoid the heartbreak of losing a loved one to heart disease.’