Men and Women May Receive Different Advice for Heart Disease Prevention
Research shows that heart and brain health are inextricably linked, which means that heart disease prevention isn’t just important to keep our bodies healthy, but also our brains.
Although heart disease is the leading cause for both men and women, new research indicates that doctors may treat male and female patients differently when it comes to preventing the disease.
The research, which was presented at the European Society of Cardiology Asia 2022 conference, found that:
• Men were 20% more likely to be prescribed statins
• Women were 27% more likely to be told to lose weight
• Women were 38% more likely to receive recommendations to exercise
• Women were 27% more likely to be told to reduce their salt intake
• Women were 11% more frequently told to reduce their fat or calorie consumption
Although the guidelines for maintaining heart health should be similar for men and women, this isn’t the first time a study has shown discrepancies based on biological sex or gender. In 2020, a study published in the journal Circulation: Heart Failuresuggested that doctors seemed to treat women who have had a heart attack less aggressively than men.
Analyzing the data
For the newest study, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital cardiology clinical researcher Dr. Prima Wulandari analyzed the data from the 2017-2020 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The survey uses physical examinations and interviews to assess the health of adults and children in the United States.
Dr. Wulandari looked at the data for 8,512 healthy participants between 40 and 79 and used the ADCVD Risk Estimator to estimate the 10-year risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Of those, she chose 2,924 participants who had a big enough risk for developing cardiovascular disease that they would qualify to receive statins.
But after adjusting for CVD risk, age, BMI, resting heart rate, depression score and educational attainment, Dr. Wulandari calculated the odds of males vs. females being prescribed statins therapy and receiving advice to exercise, lose weight, reduce salt intake and reduce fat or calorie consumption. Although a risk estimator should have leveled the playing field for male and female patients, it did not. (See stats above.)
Potential reasons for sex and gender bias
Despite the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that nearly as many women die of heart disease as men each year, there may still be a misconception among healthcare provider that women have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease than men.
“Do we think women will be more able to change [their] lifestyle?” asked Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai Director of Preventative Cardiology Dr. Martha Gulati. “Or that they have more potential lifestyle [or] behaviors that should be modified compared to men?”
Additionally, the American College of Cardiology reports that only 10-15% of cardiologists are women, leaving some women to feel that they have fewer options to find female providers if they don’t feel “heard” by their male cardiologist. The good news: women’s heart health clinics are increasing around the country, giving women more options to get great medical care from professionals who specialize in women’s heart health.
Wendy Burt-Thomas writes about the brain, mental health and parenting.
Check out the original research: