Women Less Likely to Receive Post-Heart Attack Medications

Many younger women who experience a heart attack are not prescribed cardioprotective medications afterwards, new research suggests.

Many younger women who experience a heart attack are not prescribed cardioprotective medications afterwards, new research suggests.

Beyond making lifestyle changes, acute myocardial infarction patients are usually advised to take medications such as beta-blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, and statins to help reduce the risk of a subsequent heart attack.

However, a recent study uncovered a gender gap in the initiation of these medications post-heart attack.

Previous research indicated that secondary prevention cardiovascular medication use is lower among women than men, but until now, it has been unclear whether this disparity stems from lower treatment initiation or lower treatment adherence.

To discern this, a team of researchers mapped out the cardiovascular treatment pathway by analyzing prescription data from more than 12,000 heart attack patients who survived at least a year after discharge.

When broken down by patient age, the data revealed that 65% of women younger than 55 had started cardioprotective treatment, compared with 75% of men in the same age group. There was no significant difference in adherence to the medications between men and women.

While the researchers could not definitively determine the cause of treatment under-initiation among younger women, study author Kate Smolina, PhD, told Pharmacy Times that the gender disparity is “likely to be a multi-factorial phenomenon.”

Among those factors may be the misconceptions that heart disease primarily affects men and cardioprotective medications pose risks to younger women, she explained.

“Cardiovascular disease among younger women has only recently received research attention, and it is possible that the perception of risk for adverse outcomes…is still skewed for younger women, who are seen as healthy and low risk,” Dr. Smolina said.

She asserted that the solution to this disparity may begin with health care providers and patients letting go of the “traditional thinking that cardiovascular disease is a man’s disease.”

“Awareness and education of health care professionals about this sex disparity in treatment is an important first step,” she said.

Dr. Smolina also suggested standardizing discharge prescription regimens for heart attack patients regardless of age and gender, as long as there are no contraindications to such treatment.

The study is titled “Sex Disparities in Post-Acute Myocardial Infarction Pharmacologic Treatment Initiation and Adherence” and appeared in the October 2015 edition of Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.