Women are less likely to be treated with potent cholesterol-lowering statins.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. Yet a new research study led by Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) finds that women often remain unaware of their risk for heart disease and that differences exist in the treatment patterns and outcomes between men and women presenting with heart disease.

The study, titled “Women are Less Likely to Receive Evidence-Based Lipid Lowering Therapy:  Insights from a Managed Care Population,” is co-authored by Dr. JoAnne Foody, Medical Director of the Cardiovascular Wellness Service, and Dr. Fatima Rodriguez, senior resident, Cardiovascular Medicine.

Dr. Foody and her team compared high-risk men and women treated with cholesterol-lowering medications known as statins over a four-year period. Women in the study were less likely than men to achieve optimal levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol), because they were less likely to receive treatment during the study period. The women were also less likely to receive treatment with more potent statins.

“The results are particularly relevant because the new American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association prevention guidelines emphasize moderate- to high-intensity statins as the first line of therapy for patients at highest risk,” says Dr. Foody. “Because statin therapy remains the cornerstone for the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease, our findings highlight the importance of continued patient and physician education to reduce this observed difference in treatment between men and women.”

The study concludes that the findings are due to many factors and may reflect both patient and physician preferences and biases. It also is possible that women are perceived to be at lower risk than men, as has been documented by other studies.

Whether you’re a man or woman, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your risk of heart disease so you can develop a plan for taking care of your heart.

– Elaine S., Jamie R.

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