Underestimating risk in women delays diagnosis of CVD

Practitioner. 2016 Mar;260(1791):11-5, 2.


CVD remains the most common cause of mortality in women. In 2007, the annual mortality in women secondary to CAD was 4.7 times that of breast cancer. Around 2.8 million women are living with CVD in the UK. There has been an increase in the prevalence of MI in women aged 35 to 54, while a decline in prevalence was observed in age-matched men. Difficulty in evaluating symptoms of ischaemic heart disease in women is well documented and remains challenging because of their atypical nature. The main gender difference is that women tend to present less frequently with exertional symptoms of chest pain before an AMI. Although men and women share classic cardiovascular risk factors the relative importance of each risk factor may be gender specific. The impact of smoking is greater in women than men, especially in those under 50. Diabetes is a more potent risk factor for fatal CHD in women than men. Risk factors specific to women include postmenopausal status, hysterectomy and complications during pregnancy. Women who develop gestational diabetes mellitus or pre-eclampsia more than double their risk of CVD later in life. Transition to the menopause is associated with a worsening CHD risk profile. After the menopause women may experience an increase in weight, alteration in fat distribution and an increase in other CVD risk factors such as diabetes and a more adverse lipid profile. Pharmacological stress testing is preferred for diagnosing CAD in females with lower exercise capacity. Stress cardiomyopathy is triggered by intense, unexpected emotional or physical stress and is characterised by transient apical systolic dysfunction or ballooning of the left ventricle. The syndrome predominantly affects postmenopausal women. Women presenting with STEMI have worse outcomes compared with men. However, in those presenting with NSTEMI there were no differences in outcomes.

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Delayed Diagnosis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Women's Health