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Women Are Less Likely Than Men to Receive Proper Heart Health Care, Says New Study

Women Are Less Likely Than Men to Receive Proper Heart Health Care, Says New Study

Heart disease is the number one killer of adult women in the U.S., and women are more likely to die after being hospitalized for a heart attack than men. So logically, you'd expect women and their doctors to be on high alert for any signs of cardiovascular disease, right? Sadly, a new Yale study found that's not the case: Half of younger (under 55) heart attack patients had no idea they were at risk, even though the risk factors — diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, obesity, and being a smoker — are crystal clear. While that rate was the same for male and female patients, women were 11 percent less likely than men to be told by their doctor that they were at risk and 16 percent less likely to have a health care provider discuss ways they could reduce their risk.

"We've made great strides in heart disease awareness in recent decades, but our findings suggest there is more work to be done," Erica Leifheit-Limson, the study's lead author and an associate research scientist at the Yale School of Public Health, said in a press release. "Many younger women and men, even those with multiple cardiac risk factors, are not receiving adequate counseling on heart disease."

The gender divide was more pronounced among patients with a history of cardiovascular disease and among those who hadn’t visited a heart specialist in the year before their heart attack: More men got the heads-up from a concerned clinician, while women were more likely to remain in the dark. The sex difference also persisted after researchers controlled for socioeconomics and health care access, which suggests this isn’t just about women not being able to afford care.

So why aren't women getting the same care as men? The face-palm answer: There’s a bogus perception that heart disease is more of a male issue. "Although numerous guidelines emphasize the importance of risk assessment and patient education for improving the quality of preventive care among women,” the study authors write, “both women and their physicians underestimate the cardiovascular risk for women, particularly young women."

It's a super-common, and super-dangerous, misconception. A 2012 survey from the American Heart Association showed that only 56 percent of women know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in women, and only 48 percent of women considered themselves well-informed about the disease. Sadly it seems that doctors aren’t doing their part to raise awareness. In the same survey, only 6 percent of women ages 25 to 34 and 16 percent of women ages 35 to 44 had ever discussed their risk of heart disease with a physician.

So, let's make sure to all memorize this information. Every year in the U.S., more than 15,000 women under the age of 55 die from heart disease. If you, like 97 percent of the female heart attack patients in the Yale study, have any cardiovascular risk factors — again, that’s diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, obesity, or smoking — have a frank discussion with your doctor about how can maximize your heart health and minimize your risk.

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Photo Credit: megaflopp via Getty Images