WASHINGTON — Heart disease can sneak up on women in ways that standard cardiac tests can miss.
It's part of a puzzling gender gap: Women tend to have different heart attack symptoms than men. They're more likely to die in the year after a first heart attack.
In fact, more than 40 percent of women still don't realize that heart disease is the No. 1 female killer. One death in 30 in 2007 was from breast cancer, compared to about 1 in 3 from cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association.
A new report says there's been too little progress in tackling the sex differences in heart disease.
"A woman's heart is her major health threat, and everyone who takes care of a woman has to realize that," says Emory University cardiologist Dr. Nanette Wenger, who co-authored the report.
The illness is more prevalent in men, and tends to hit them about a decade earlier than is usual for women.
But while overall deaths have been dropping in recent years, that improvement has been slower for women who face some unique issues, says the report from the nonprofit Society for Women's Health Research and WomenHeart.
The report says part of the lack of understanding about such gender issues is because heart-related studies still don't focus enough on women, especially minority women. Only a third of cardiovascular treatment studies include information on how each gender responds. The report urged direct comparisons of which treatments work best in women, and improved diagnostic tests.