Study: Doctors Underestimate Risk of Heart Disease in Women

Several studies released on Tuesday have shown that women are far less likely than men to be treated adequately for heart disease, which is currently the leading cause of death in both men and women, killing more women overall. Nearly 500,000 women die of heart disease every year, the Washington Post reports, almost twice as many as those who die from all forms of cancer combined.

The studies, released in the February 1 issue of the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation, have concluded that because the perception is that women are at lower risk for heart disease, doctors are less likely to provide basic preventative medical care to female patients in order to reduce their risk of heart attacks and strokes. Less than 20 percent of the doctors surveyed knew that more women than men die from heart disease yearly.

Dr. Lori Mosca, director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and leader of two of the studies published in Circulation, studied the medical records of over 8,000 women with diagnosed cardiovascular disease and found that two-thirds of the women were not receiving medicine to lower their dangerously high cholesterol, Reuters reports. In the second study, Mosca’s team surveyed 500 doctors, asking them to make recommendations on how to manage the blood pressure and cholesterol levels of fictitious patients of both genders. The study found that the doctors were 40 percent less likely to classify the female patients as high risk for heart disease, according to the Post.

“These interventions can save lives and prevent subsequent heart attacks in these women,” Dr. Alexandra Lansky, director of Clinical Services for Interventional Cardiology at New York Presbyterian Hospital told Reuters, “Now is the time to translate our findings into real-world practice.”

February is American Heart Month.

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Reuters 2/1/05; Forbes 2/1/05; Washington Post 2/2/05

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