In its annual report released Wednesday, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada said Canadian women face a significantly higher risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke than men do, and that more must be done to diagnose and treat the reasons for this increasing difference.
The report shows that compared with men, women are less likely to be treated by a specialist, transferred to another facility for treatment or receive procedures such as angioplasty to open up clogged arteries or cardiac bypass surgery.
Says Dr. Beth Abramson, a Toronto cardiologist and foundation spokeswoman,"For years it was assumed that this occurred because women were older and tended to be sicker when they were hospitalized. But even when you control for age and other health conditions, a woman's risk of dying within the first 30 days is 16 per cent higher than a man's for a heart attack and 11 per cent higher for stroke. It's a grave concern that women's heart health has not kept pace with men's."
Today, heart attack and stroke have become gender insensitive, responsible for the deaths of 37,000 women and 37,000 men each year.
Dr. Sonia Anand, a vascular medicine specialist at McMaster University, says women's symptoms usually differ from those of men and some doctors may not pick up their significance.
"All doctors are trained to recognize typical symptoms of chest pain, but women seem to have a different set of symptoms compared to men. So oftentimes, women who present with atypical symptoms are not sent on for a coronary angiogram because the treating physician doesn't think it's heart disease.
"Another compounding factor is that doctors have relied for decades on research that showed women were at lower risk for heart disease then men", opines Anand.
The report also reveals that only 32 percent of women see a cardiologist after a heart attack, compared with 38 percent of men. Seeing a specialist is important, the foundation says, since the risk of dying is 47 percent lower for patients treated by a cardiologist, taking account of age and other conditions.
The report also notes that from 1973 to 2003, male deaths dropped by 49 percent but female deaths had dropped only 24 percent.