More middle-aged American women have heart attacks but the death rate has dropped in the past years, according to studies made by researchers at the University of Southern California.
The two studies also found that heart attacks for women have increased but for men there is a decrease.
“We found that men still have a higher prevalence than women, but what has happened is that the gap has narrowed,” said Dr. Amytis Towfighi, assistant professor of clinical neurology at USC and lead author of one of two reports in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Towfighi used data from two national surveys conducted from 1988 to 1994 and 1999 to 2004.
She found that while 2.5 percent of the men and 0.7 percent of the women reported a history of heart attacks in the earlier survey, 2.2 percent of men and 1 percent of women reported heart attacks in the more recent survey.
“Very basically, the risk factors are being better controlled in men than in women,” Towfighi explained the narrowing of the male-female difference.
According to the report, levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol in men remained the same between the two surveys, while levels of “good” HDL cholesterol improved. Blood pressure levels improved, and fewer men smoked.
But the improvements for women were marginal, with LDL cholesterol levels about the same. The only risk factor that improved in women was HDL cholesterol. Diabetes and obesity increased in men and women, according to the study.
Doctors are paying more attention to heart risk factors in women because “there is a red flag about women not being absolutely protected against heart disease in midlife, as we had thought, and we are aware that more effort must be made to reduce their risk,” Towfighi said.
In the second study, information has been used from a different data bank listing death rate trends from 1994 to 2006.
A marked reduction in hospital deaths from heart attacks in all patients has been found, especially among women.
For women under 55, the risk of dying dropped by 53 percent, which was the greatest improvement noted. The least reduction, 33 percent, was seen in men under 55.
Dr. Viola Vaccarino, professor of medicine and director of the Emory Program in Cardiovascular Outcomes Research and Epidemiology, who is also the lead author of the report, said a detailed examination of cardiac risk factors showed that “women experienced less worsening than men.”
“Perhaps physicians are paying more attention to the detection and treatment of women with heart disease,” Vaccarino said.
“It could be the same thing happening in the general public, with women getting more knowledgeable about this,” Vaccarino added.
Dr. Nieca Goldberg, spokeswoman for the American Heart Association, said both of the studies show the importance of continuing to pay attention to women’s risk of cardiovascular disease and treatment of their heart attacks.