If you have heart failure, you receive essentially the same treatment whether you’re a man or a woman. But a new study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that men’s and women’s hearts age differently. That raises the question—should treatment for heart failure be different for a man than it is for a woman?
About five million people in the U.S. are currently living with heart failure. In the study, which is part of a larger study examining heart disease in men and women from different ethnic groups, the researchers used MRI to examine the hearts of approximately 3,000 men and women over a period of nearly nine and a half years. None of the participants had signs of cardiovascular disease when the study began.
The researchers found that the volume of the left ventricle, the chamber of the heart that pumps blood throughout the body, decreased with age in both men and women. That decrease, however, was greater for women. This decrease in volume usually occurs when the wall of the ventricle thickens from having to pump harder because of high blood pressure or other cardiovascular problems.
They also found that the mass or weight of the left ventricle got larger in men and smaller in women, with the muscle getting thicker in men, a condition that can contribute to the development of heart failure. Currently, the main treatment to prevent heart failure is medication that decreases the thickness of the heart muscle. The results of this study suggest that treatment approach may not be as effective for women, since the MRI scans showed their heart muscle did not become thicker with age.
Why a personalized approach to heart disease may be more effective
The study did not uncover why there was a difference in the mass of the left ventricle in men and women, so more research is needed. But the study’s findings suggest that a more personalized approach to treating heart failure and other forms of heart disease may be needed to achieve optimum outcomes for women. The cause of heart failure in women may be related to factors other than the thickening of the heart muscle, so different medications or other types of interventions may be more effective.
Additional studies have found other ways that heart disease can differ in women, including:
- A higher risk of heart attack when the arteries have plaque build-up compared the men with the same or more plaque
- A 25 percent higher risk of developing heart disease for female smokers compared to male smokers
- A three times higher risk of heart disease in women diagnosed with depression compared to depressed men
It’s important to work with a cardiologist who’s experienced diagnosing and treating heart disease in women. A personal health advisor can help you connect with these specialists and can provide you with the latest information on heart disease risk factors and treatments so you can protect the health of your heart.