News | Womens Healthcare | March 31, 2016

American Heart Association Publishes Scientific Statement on Women and Heart Attacks

Statement illustrates the significant shift over time in treatment of acute myocardial infarction in women

American Heart Association, AHA, scientific statement, heart attacks, women, cardiovascular disease

March 31, 2016 — After a lengthy review of increasing medical evidence, the American Heart Association has published a scientific statement on the reduction in cardiovascular disease mortality in women. Per the study, “The dramatic decline in mortality rates for women is attributed partly to an increase in awareness, a greater focus on women and cardiovascular disease risk, and the increased application of evidence-based treatments for established coronary disease.”

“This is absolutely a good news story for women in terms of their health and cardiovascular disease,” said co-author Cindy L. Grines, M.D., vice president of Detroit Medical Center (DMC) Heart Hospital.

While often traditionally considered a disease of men, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of mortality for women in the United States. The study suggests that “although major progress has been made in reducing CVD mortality in women, medical research has historically neglected the health needs of women, apart from reproductive concerns.”

“It’s a longstanding misconception that cancer is the leading killer when it comes to women,” said Grines. “That’s actually second. According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the U.S.”

But since 2000, the incidence of cardiovascular mortality in women has been on a decline, at a degree of thousands of lives saved. What’s changed?

“It’s a combination of advancements in treatment and education about cardiovascular disease among both patients and physicians,” said Grines. “We still have a long way to go in addressing the cardiovascular disease rate for women, but this data is a good indication that we are starting to do the right things, at the right time.”

Education about the differences between men and women in terms of cardiovascular disease and its risk factors has been, and continues to be, a key effort. “For decades, women were seen as ‘smaller men’ as far as heart disease was concerned, and needless to say, that’s incorrect,” said Grines. “There are clear differences in how women experience symptoms, in how the disease affects their body and in the effect risk factors have on their disease.

As an example, Grines cited modifiable risk factors such as depression, obesity and stress, which have very different rates of impact on cardiovascular disease risk – and all of them are higher when it comes to women. Patients and clinicians are learning to recognize symptoms in women that are different, such as shortness of breath, and pain in locations outside the chest, including arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach.

“The data in this new scientific statement is clear and compelling,” said Grines, who is also a professor of medicine at the Wayne State University School of Medicine. “We’ve known for some time that heart disease in women was different, and now we have support for more specific protocols for recognizing and treating it faster and better.”

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