8,000 deaths of UK women due to “unequal heart attack care”

Thousands of women have died after unequal care.

By Morven McIntyre

Research funded by the British Heart Foundation and the Welcome Trust shows that in a 10 year period more than 8,200 women in England and Wales could have survived their heart attacks if they had received the same quality of treatment as men.

The study finds that women are not given the same care in the hospital and more research is needed to find out how women should be treated as they are biologically different from men.

Researchers from the University of Leeds used anonymous data from the UK’s national heart attack registry (MINAP) to analyse the treatment and outcomes of 691,290 people who were hospitalised for heart attacks in England and Wales between 2003 and 2013.

In the study, women were more likely to be older and had other illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure. These risk factors were adjusted for, and still it was found that women had more than double the median rate of death in the 30 days following their heart attack than men. The researchers imply that this in part is due to women being less likely to receive guideline recommended care.

Women who had a NSTEMI, a type of heart attack where the coronary artery is partially blocked, were 34% less likely to receive timely coronary angiography (radiography of blood or lymph vessels) within 72 hours of their symptoms.

The study also revealed other inequalities in care such as women were less likely to be prescribed statins or beta blockers.

This study did not include all heart attacks in the UK over the ten year period and therefore, the total number of lives lost will be higher.

Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Leeds and Honorary Consultant Cardiologist, Chris Gale said: “We know women are dying due to unequal heart attack care and now we’ve identified the shortfalls we need to target to save lives.”

“In isolation the differences may appear small, but even in a high performing health system like the UK, small deficits in care across a population add up to reveal a much larger problem and a significant loss of life.”

“We also show that not all differences are down to bias – some are down to biology. Only with more research can we hope to better understand how to target biology and best treat heart attacks in women.”

Every year in the UK around 70,000 women go to hospital due to a heart attack, and up to 25,000 women in the UK die each year – that’s 3 women every hour.

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation, said: “This study has identified several areas where heart attacks are being treated differently between the sexes which may contribute to worse outcomes in women. If we start to address these now, it will make a huge difference and saves lives.”