Why women are more likely to die of a heart attack

Symptoms differ, women less likely to be referred to cardiac rehab afterward

By Chris Shadrock - Web - News Producer

SAN ANTONIO - Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States, but at times it’s not so obvious.

Some of the most obvious symptoms of the disease -- such as a heart attack -- sometimes strike women in different ways.

There are some things you should know when it comes to gender and heart health.

As many people will tell you, men and women are very different creatures.

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“There are big differences between men and women,” Lisa Gill, a health expert with Consumer Reports, said. “One really good example, is that women tend to have heart attacks later in life, usually around age 72. Whereas for men, it's around age 65."

Women are also more likely to die from a heart attack. The American Heart Association says once someone hit 45, 26 percent of women die in the year after their first heart attack.

Compared with 19 percent of men.

“When a woman is having a heart attack, the symptoms are different and they're actually much less obvious,” Gill said. “Which makes it more difficult to detect she's actually having a heart attack." 

READ MORE: Common mistakes made while recovering from a heart attack

Gill also said it is important for women to be aware of key, subtle signs, such as jaw or back pain, nausea and shortness of breath.

Men typically have more classic symptoms, such as chest pain or tightness and pain radiating to the arms.

As a result, women may be less likely to seek medical help than men and may be more likely to be misdiagnosed in the emergency room.

When a heart attack is suspected, care also differs.

“An angiogram is a pretty standard, and it checks for blockages in the coronary arteries. But for women, the plaque tends to spread more evenly," Gill said.

So for women, an intravascular ultrasound may be an additional test worth performing.

Anyone who has had a heart attack should be prescribed medication, like low-dose aspirin -- and also be referred to an exercise and a cardiac rehabilitation program. But research shows women are less likely than men to get a referral to those programs -- or to go, when referred.

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