The Grapevine

More Women Die From Heart Failure Than Men, Study Finds

While heart failure accounts for 35 percent of total female cardiovascular deaths, not enough information is available regarding sex differences in outcomes of the condition.

In their new study, researchers from Canada revealed that death rates from heart failure are higher among women compared to men. Hospitalization rates have also increased in women while it was declining in men.

The paper titled "Sex differences in outcomes of heart failure in an ambulatory, population-based cohort from 2009 to 2013" was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on July 16.

Heart failure is a progressive condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood, failing to deliver enough nutrients and oxygen to the cells of the body. It can be caused by narrowing of the arteries, high blood pressure, scarring, etc.

"This is the first of a series of studies to examine the sex differences in heart failure incidence, outcomes, care delivery and access in Ontario," said Dr. Louise Sun, an anesthesiologist from the University of Ottawa Heart Institute (UOHI) in Canada.

Dr. Sun and her research team examined more than 90,000 people from Ontario who were diagnosed with heart failure. They used five years' worth of data, from 2009 to 2014.

After a one-year follow up after diagnosis, it was found that 16.8 percent of female patients had died compared to 14.9 percent of male patients. Forty-seven percent of all cases were female and were more likely to be older, frailer, have lower income and suffer from multiple chronic illnesses. In 2013, women were found to have surpassed men in rates of hospitalization.

"The mortality for heart failure for women is not improving, the survival is not improving to the same extent as with men," said Dr. Lisa Mielniczuk, co-principal investigator of the study who is also from UOHI. "We didn’t expect to see such a marked gender difference."

According to Dr. Sun, women have a different type of heart failure which may be harder to diagnose and harder to treat. "There’s something that we’re doing right in men that we’re not doing right in women, so that’s why we really need to raise awareness of this," she stated.

For example, an ultrasound is not as reliable to indicate heart-related illnesses in women as it is in men. This can lead to misdiagnosis, worsening of symptoms, and female patients not getting the medications they need. 

Mielniczuk added that women tend to be older by the time they are diagnosed when the treatments available are much less effective. While progress has been made in treating the type of heart failure common in men, she said, "we have seen almost no advancement in the strategy used to treat the heart failure that affects women predominantly."

In order to improve outcomes for women, the researchers emphasized a focus on sex differences in health-seeking behavior, medical therapy and response to therapy in future studies.