The gender gap narrows between men and women at risk of heart attack when ladies become menopausal, according to a new study by the University of Southern California, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine and reported by Health News.

Why? A loss of estrogen makes menopausal women more vulnerable to heart attack. In addition, women in midlife also may not be safe from the cardiovascular condition.

Researchers analyzed national survey data on more than 8,000 men and women ages 35 to 54 from 1988 to through 1994 and from 1999 through 2004. Scientists compared heart attack rates for the two sexes using the Framingham coronary risk score.

The results indicated that, overall, men had more heart attacks than women. But men’s rates improved from 2.5 percent during the early years to 2.2 percent in the later years. In comparison, for women, rates only improved by a much smaller margin, from 0.7 to 1 percent.

In addition, men’s cardiovascular risk factors improved or stabilized while women’s only heart benefit was in high-density lipoprotein.

“Several studies that have found women have their risk factors checked less frequently than men,” said lead researcher Amytis Towfighi, MD, assistant professor of clinical neurology at the University of Southern California and chairwoman of the neurology department at Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Center.

“When they are checked, women are less likely to receive medication than men,” Towfighi added. “And when they receive medication, their symptoms are not as controlled as much as men.”

Towfighi said that the culprits behind women’s increase risk of heart attack include societal changes such as demanding jobs, rising obesity and diabetes rates, limited exercise and unhealthy diets and the fact that more women are in the workforce.

In another study published in the same journal, researchers examined women’s risk of death after they suffered a heart attack between 1994 and 2006. They found that the survival rate improved in both men and women. But the chances of survival for women younger than 55 were more improved than the men’s. (The gender gap was diminished in older women.)

These studies show we are on the right track and we need to use more aggressive risk assessments for heart attack prevention in women, said Sabine Oertelt-Prigione, MD, and Vera Regitz-Zagrosek, MD, PhD, in a journal editorial about the research.

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