Last week the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released it annual Causes of Death data, which showed heart disease was the single leading cause of death in Australia, claiming 17,533 Australians in 2018, or around 48 every day.
A charity abroad has now come out and said two women a day are thought to be dying needlessly due to the “heart attack gender gap” – where they do not receive equal treatment to men.
Stark inequalities in awareness, diagnosis and treatment of heart attacks contributed to an estimated 8,000 plus women dying in England and Wales over a 10-year period from 2003-2013, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) said.
In a new briefing, Bias And Biology: How The Gender Gap In Heart Disease Is Costing Women’s Lives, the charity said women delay seeking help when they experience symptoms.
There is a common perception that heart attack is a man’s disease, BHF said. But twice as many women die from coronary heart disease – the underlying cause of most heart attacks – than breast cancer in the UK, according to the charity.
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, consultant cardiologist and BHF associate medical director, said the charity was not pointing a finger at any individual or organisation, but highlighting a “deeply entrenched issue which manifests itself in a series of unconscious biases”.
She said: “Heart attacks have never been more treatable. Yet women are dying needlessly because heart attacks are often seen as a man’s disease, and women don’t receive the same standard of treatment as men.
“The studies detailed in this briefing have revealed inequalities at every stage of a woman’s medical journey. The reasons for this are complex to dissect. Together, we must change this.”
About 35,000 women are admitted to hospital following a heart attack in the UK each year – an average of 98 women a day, said the BHF. A study at the University of Leeds estimated that more than 8,200 heart attack deaths in women in England and Wales could have been prevented if they had received the same standard of care as men – the equivalent of two a day.
The BHF said research has shown women are 50% more likely than men to receive a wrong initial diagnosis when they are having a heart attack, increasing their risk of death.
Women take longer on average to arrive at hospital after the onset of symptoms than men, a global review found, while a BHF-funded study found women were 2.7% less likely to be prescribed statins and 7.4% less likely to be prescribed beta blockers when leaving hospital.
Risk factors for heart attack are also more serious for women – high blood pressure increases women’s risk 80% more, and Type 2 diabetes increases women’s risk 50% more. The BHF said counterparts in the US and Canada have found a similar picture from the evidence.
Chris Gale, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Leeds, said: “This problem is not unique to the UK – studies across the globe have also revealed gender gaps in treatment, suggesting this is a deeply entrenched and complex issue.
“On their own, the differences in care are very small, but when we look at this across the population of the UK, it adds up to a significant loss of life. We can do better.”