An estimated 35,000 young and middle-aged American women who experience a heart attack each year suffer a more difficult recovery than men, according to new research published online Monday in Circulation. And much of that has to do with the higher level of stress these women experience being the caregivers of their families.
Although stress affects both men and women, researchers from Yale University found that women had higher levels of stress that made their recovery worse in the few weeks after suffering a heart attack.
“We measured a couple of health outcomes one month after the heart attack, including general quality of life and chest-pain–specific quality of life, as well as physical function and mental-health status,” says Dr. Xiao Xu, lead author and an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine. “And we have pretty consistent findings showing that women, in general, have worse outcomes than similarly aged men.”
The study collected data on about 2,400 women and 1,175 men ages 18 to 55 who had a heart attack. The participants were from more than 100 hospitals in the United States, Australia, and Spain.
For these women, they generally had a lower quality of life during their recovery, including more instances of chest pain and poorer physical function and mental health.
Women were also more concerned about family issues while men were stressed about financial issues.
For Black women, who have the highest rates of single head-of-household homes, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, how can the challenge of maintaining the household be balanced with a healthy recovery?
Therein lies the next steps for doctors who focus only on the prognostics and forget the everyday realities their patients face that could affect their recovery. For women who are the breadwinners, moms, caregivers to their parents, soccer coaches—any combinations of these or all of these—sticking to a rigid cardiac program will be tough.
Thus, an innovative and holistic approach may be needed as doctors look to treat the patient and not just the disease.
S.C. Rhyne is a blogger and novelist in New York City. Follow the author on Twitter @ReporterandGirl, http://Facebook.com/TheReporterandTheGirl and visit her website at http://www.TheReporterandTheGirl.com