The study, led by researchers from the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center, shows that women who suffer chest pain or a heart attack are more likely than men with the same conditions to have only mild and more diffuse blockages in their major arteries. This means that for these individuals, their symptoms are most likely caused by blockages in smaller, less flexible vessels.
But even when men and women with similar rates of heart attacks were compared, the women were less likely to get aggressive drug treatment, according to the new results from the Global Registry of Acute Coronary Events being presented here today at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2003.
Since women's large blood vessels were more likely to be clear when examined via angiography, the authors think they may have found the reason why so many women leave the hospital without a firm diagnosis and with a less aggressive therapy regimen after experiencing acute heart symptoms.
And, the finding may explain a long-known but mysterious disparity between men and women in the rate of angioplasty and bypass surgery, which are most often done only after severe blockages or narrowings are spotted on an angiogram.
But the researchers were especially surprised by the disparity in drug therapy, including the use of aspirin, beta-blockers and clotbusters in the hospital, and aspirin and beta-blockers at discharge. Such drugs are recommended for nearly all people who suffer heart attacks.
"The question of whether there is some sort of bias against women in heart treatment has been around for some time, and in fact our data do show a bias against giving
Contact: Kara Gavin
University of Michigan Health System