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Is Heart Health Care Created Equal for Both Men and Women?

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Heart disease is traditionally thought of as a man’s disease. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different from the misconception. The truth is that not only is heart disease the number one killer in the United States, but it’s an equal opportunity disease that kills women with equal vigor to men. Depending on who you talk to, death rates from heart disease in women range from almost half of all heart disease deaths (ABC News Report 1) to tipping the scales and killing more women than men (US News 1). Regardless of which report is more accurate, it seems apparent that heart disease is no longer a “man’s disease".

With heart disease on the rise in women, the question is whether or not women are receiving the same care as men when it comes to heart health. According a May, 2011 report by Health Grades, the answer is a resounding “no.” Health Grades is an independent company that provides information to consumers on physicians and hospital quality outcomes. From 2007 to 2009, Health Grade examined patient records from more than five million Medicare patients. They specifically examined women records focusing on 16 common diagnoses and procedures. (Health Grades 1.)

Unfortunately for women, Health Grades found that heart disease is an equal opportunity disease, but not all treatment options were gender-blind. Health Grades reported as follows:
• Life-saving surgical interventions: 50 percent of men received such treatments compared with only 33 percent of women
• Thirty percent higher death rate in women undergoing heart surgery or angioplasty (Health Grades 2.)

The report also indicated that not all hospitals have the same quality of care, either in diagnoses or treatment options, when it comes to their female patients. Those differences, according to Health Grade, can mean the difference between life and death. For example, the Health Grade report found that in hospitals identified as Women’s Health Excellence Award hospitals – those hospitals that have outstanding programs for diagnoses and treatment of women – mortality rates in women were 42 percent less than in lower performing hospitals. (Health Grades 3.)

The discrepancy between heart health care between women and men may be due to numerous factors. Heart disease presents at a younger age in men than in women, making physicians more reluctant to perform heart surgeries on an older woman than they would be on a younger man. Symptoms of heart disease can sometimes vary considerably between men and women leading to more difficulty in diagnosing heart disease in women. In addition, even after diagnosis, many women do not receive the same preventative care or follow-up care as men receive.

It’s important for women to be aware that not all medical professionals may be fully educated regarding the gender differences in prevention, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care. Always be proactive and participate in your health care by educating yourself, asking questions and partnering with your physician in decision making regarding your heart health.

Mikaela Conley, Heart Health Care Gender Inequality Can Be Fatal for Women: Report; 03 May 2011, ABC News, http://abcnews.go.com/Health/report-finds-large-discrepancies-men-womens-heart-care/story?id=13512323

Women Fare Worse than Men When It Comes to Treatment of Heart Disease, 03 May 2011, Health Grades, http://www.healthgrades.com/cms/ratings-and-awards/2011-Womens-Health-Excellence-Award-Announcement.aspx

Report: Heart Health Care Gender Inequality Can Be Fatal for Women, 2011, ABC News Radio, http://abcnewsradioonline.com/health-news/report-heart-health-care-gender-inequality-can-be-fatal-for.html

Deborah Kotz, Why Women Get Less Heart Care (And What They Should Do), 18 May 2007, US News, http://health.usnews.com/usnews/health/articles/070518/18health.gender.htm

Edited by Alison Stanton

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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