Heart Attacks / Coronary Disease

The gendered nature of deaths from heart and artery diseases can only be appreciated if the death rates are displayed against age range, since otherwise the eventual excess of female deaths in the 85+ age range distorts the true picture. Mortality data for 2012 from the British Heart Foundation (Cardiovascular Disease Statistics 2014) are as follows (where deaths due to coronary heart disease, “other” heart diseases, and arterial diseases have been combined),

Age range

men women ratio (m/w)

<35

359 157

2.3

25 – 44

879 306 2.9
45 – 54 2,868 776

3.7

55 – 64

6,156 1,968 3.1

65 – 74

11,932 5,528

2.2

75 – 84 19,366 15,130

1.3

85+ 17,240 26,981

0.64

Deaths of men due to heart disease are more than twice as common as those of women at all ages up to 74. In the 45 to 54 age range, men’s deaths due to heart disease are a staggering 3.7 times more frequent than those of women. Below age 85, the number of deaths of men due to heart and arterial diseases in 2012 was 41,560 compared with 23,865 deaths of women, and excess of male deaths of 17,695. To put this in context, the excess of male deaths due to heart disease is comparable with the total deaths of women due to breast cancer, ovarian cancer and uterine cancers combined.

In early 2015 there was much talk about the introduction of a more sensitive troponin test (a standard diagnostic for heart attack). Research indicates that refinements to this test would double the number of women successfully diagnosed with coronary heart disease, but have little benefit for men. Use of the revised testing methodology, which seems likely to be introduced in the NHS, would result in parity in the diagnosis rate for men and women presenting with a problem (at present women are underdiagnosed compared with men).

Not to loose an opportunity for a spot of propaganda, on 21/1/15 Radio 4’s Today programme concluded a report on this issue with the false statement that “women are at greater risk of dying from a heart attack than men”. The above statistics show how egregious an untruth this is. Moreover, with the introduction of the revised test we can expect the huge excess of men dying from heart attacks to increase as the prospect for women, only, improves.

On a more positive note, there are substantially fewer deaths due to coronary disease now than there was at the start of the millennium, probably due to the deceasing popularity of smoking. Deaths from heart attacks have halved over this period.

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