The long-term health consequences of heart attacks, including their impact on life expectancy, are well known. But do they affect men and women differently? Researchers have discovered that women lose more years of life after a heart attack compared to men.

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet and Danderyd Hospital examined the life expectancy of 335,000 heart attack survivors and compared them with 1.6 million individuals without myocardial infarction. The heart attack survivors were part of the SWEDEHEART quality registry from 1991–2022. The data on healthy individuals were taken from Statistics Sweden and the National Board of Health and Welfare.

According to the results of a study published in the journal Circulation, women experience a greater life expectancy loss than men, and the effect was more significant in those with impaired cardiac function after their heart attack.

"We found that there were large differences between groups. Women and young individuals lost the most life expectancy when they had a heart attack. If the cardiac function was impaired after the infarction, the effects were even greater. For example, a 50-year-old woman with impaired cardiac function loses an average of 11 years in 2022 compared to an 80-year-old man with normal cardiac function who loses an average of 5 months in life expectancy," first author Christian Reitan said in a news release.

The researchers considered factors such as differences in income, education, other illnesses, and medication, to measure the heart attack's effect more accurately.

"The results showed that a fairly large part of the reduction in life expectancy disappeared, that is, much of the reduction in life expectancy is explained by factors other than the heart attack itself, but which may still be associated with heart attack, such as socioeconomics or other diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. Provided that the patient had preserved cardiac function, we saw that the gender difference had disappeared," Reitan said.

"We interpret this to mean that the effect of the heart attack, and thus also the care for heart attacks, is similar between the sexes and that the large reduction in life expectancy we see in women is due to differences in risk factors, other diseases, and socioeconomics," Reitan added.

The researchers believe their findings will help understand life expectancy impacts, identify high-risk groups, and offer insights to improve future care planning.