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Report: Heart Health Care Gender Inequality Can Be Fatal for Women

Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/ Thinkstock(DENVER) -- Experts say it's important to recognize the gender differences in heart health, but a new HealthGrades report, which sought to evaluate gender-specific outcomes in heart care in men and women, found that just being a woman increased the likelihood of death in heart surgery patients compared with their male counterparts.

Researchers said there are several reasons for this conclusion.  Symptoms of heart disease in women usually appear at an older age than men, and often times, many women have symptoms without any history of the disease.

The greatest inconsistency came under valve replacement surgery, where women were at a 44 percent greater risk of dying than men.

Among other statistics, the report found that only 33 percent of women who had a heart attack in 2009 received some sort of surgery, compared with 45 percent of men.  And female heart attack patients who received any kind of cardiovascular treatment had a death rate that was 30 percent higher than men.

Experts say that women tend to do worse than men in cardiovascular disease treatments.  They are also less likely to receive recommended preventive and follow-up care than men.

Along with the varying symptoms, Dr. Malissa Wood, co-director of the Corrigan Women's Heart Health Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, said there are several other contributing factors that lead to differences in treatment and outcome between genders.

Wood said that women, and sometimes even their doctors, still do not fully grasp that more women die from heart disease than men, and women are more likely to have atypical or unusual symptoms.

The American Heart Association states that women account for nearly half of all heart disease deaths, but only about half of those women are aware that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women.

"This leads to later presentation with heart attack and slower recognition by care providers," said Wood.  "Often the damage to the heart muscle has been done once women present."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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