Gender based differences in drug eluting stent implantation - data from the German ALKK registry suggest underuse of DES in elderly women
© The Author(s). 2017
Received: 25 March 2016
Accepted: 14 February 2017
Published: 27 February 2017
Observational studies suggest there are gender based differences in the treatment of coronary artery disease, with women receiving evidence based therapy less frequently than suggested by current guidelines. The aim of our study was to evaluate gender based differences in the use of DES.
We analysed prospectively collected data from 100704 stent implantations in the PCI registry of the ALKK between 2005 and 2009.
The usage of DES increased from 16.0 to 43.9%. Although women had smaller vessel sizes, they received DES less often compared to men (28.2 vs. 31.3%), with an adjusted odds ratio of 0.93 (95% confidence interval 0.89-0.97) at the age of 75, and an adjusted odds ratio of 0.89 (95% confidence interval 0.84-0.94) at the age of 80.
Despite having smaller vessels than men, women were treated less often with DES. These findings apply to women above the age of 75 years. These findings support previous reports, that elderly women with coronary artery disease are treated differently to men.
KeywordsDrug eluting stents Gender differences PCI– registry
Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in Europe and North-America . Evidence-based treatment of cardiovascular disease, according to European and American guidelines, should not differ between women and men, wether for stable coronary artery disease, acute coronary syndromes or for revascularisation procedures. Nevertheless, gender differences in the treatment of cardiovascular disease is well recognized, with women receiving less evidence-based care. In acute coronary syndromes, women still receive beta-blockers, ace-inhibitors and statins less frequently than men . Furthermore, invasive diagnosis and treatment (by heart catheterisation and PCI), the most effective treatment especially in high risk NSTEMI and STEMI, is withheld from women frequently . One postulated reason for this is the higher age of women at the time of diagnosis and treatment. Another reason is that women are less frequently investigated for coronary disease since the condition is still regarded as a “male” disease. Furthermore, the presenting symptoms of women with coronary artery disease are frequently overlooked, due to their different and so-called “atypical” presentation .
Due to their on average smaller height and size, women do have smaller coronary arteries, which may be one reason for inferior results following revascularisation procedures, either Percutaneous Coronary Intervention PCI  or Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting . Given the substantially higher risk of restenosis in smaller vessels [7, 8] the attraction of DES in reducing target lesion revascularisation [9–13], should mean a higher usage of DES in women is warranted.
To evaluate possible gender differences, we analysed the ALKK-PCI registry for gender differences and other variables in the usage of Drug Eluting Stents (DES) and Bare Metal Stents (BMS).
Data from 100704 stent implantations performed during 82304 interventions were prospectively collected in the German ALKK-registry (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Leitende Kardiologische Krankenhausärzte) from 1st quarter 2005 to 4th quarter 2009. In the present analysis, data from 28 centres in Germany which participated continuously during the whole period were included. The project started in 1992 as a prospective registry for quality control in PTCA. The registry collects data about indication, technical aspects, medication and hospital outcome including in-hospital complications. Since 2002, the registry is based on an obligatory quality control program that has been introduced in Germany, which requires and checks consecutive enrolment and the completeness of a core dataset. The data were collected electronically and transferred in anonymised form to the Institut für Herzinfarktforschung for editing and statistical analysis. The study is purely observational and was approved by the ethics committee of the Landesaerztekammer Rheinland-Pfalz. None of the authors has competing interests concerning scope and results of the analysis.
All consecutive documented stent implantations for ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), Non-ST-elevation-Acute Coronary Syndrome (NSTE-ACS), or stable Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) were included in the present analysis.
Patients’ baseline and angiographic characteristics for both sexes are presented as percentages and absolute values with regard to categorical variables and compared by Pearson chi-squared test and odds ratios with 95%-confidence intervals. The distribution of continuous variables is characterised by median and quartiles and compared between genders by Wilcoxon rank-sum test. The stent diameter and the number of stents per procedure is summarized by mean and standard deviation. These descriptive statistics are based on the available cases. As patients admitted multiple times cannot be identified in the data base, we considered different interventions to be independent.
The proportion of DES compared to all implanted stents is shown for men and women in categories of relevant factors. The 95%-intervals of odds ratios adjusted standard errors were calculated using the Taylor linearization technique to allow for clustering. The use of DES in categories of age and indication for PCI is visualised in bar charts and tested for interaction by the Breslow-Day test.
In order to adjust the effect of gender on the choice of a drug eluting stent for other determinants, the variables whose distributions differed significantly between men and women on the one hand and DES and BMS on the other hand as well as the significant interaction of age and gender were included in a multivariable logistic model. As multiple stents implanted during the same session strongly tended to be of the same type, generalized estimating equations assuming an exchangeable working correlation structure were applied and robust standard errors calculated for the odds ratios. For explanatory variables with missing information of more than 1%, conditional means, calculated by a regression on age, gender and indication for PCI, were used.
All p-values are the results of two-tailed tests. P-values ≤ 0.05 were considered significant. The statistical calculations have been performed using the SAS system release 9.3 on a personal computer (SAS Institute, Cary, NC, USA).
Patient and procedural chracteristics
Number of procedures
71.9 (64.8 – 78.3)
66.7 (57.4 – 73.5)
Symptoms of HF
Center volume stents/year
1150 ± 613
1156 ± 623
Left main stem
Implanted stents per PCI
1.40 ± 0.75
1.42 ± 0.76
Complex stenosis (≥ B2)
The presentation with STEMI, NSTEMI or stable CAD as well as cardiogenic shock and with or without signs of heart failure, showed statistically significantly different but numerically similar values between genders. The same holds true for the lesion characteristics, where we found more left anterior descending (LAD) lesions and fewer left circumflex (CX) lesions, stent re-stenosis and complex lesions in women than in men. The centre experience in terms of stent implantations performed per year was comparable for men and women.
Usage of DES from 2005 to 2009
Relative use of DES in women and men according to indication
Age dependent rate of DES use in women and men
Variables correlating with use of DES
Use of DES in women and men
Previous PCI yes/no
Previous CABG yes/no
Diabetes mellitus yes/no
Renal disease yes/no
Cardiogenic shock yes/no
Symptoms of HF yes/no
In-stent restenosis yes/no
Complex stenosis (≥ B2)
ALKK PCI-registry 2005-2009: Adjusted effects for the usage of DES in all stent implantations (n = 29374/97491)
Adjusted odds ratio
Age [10-year increase] in men
Age [10-year increase] in women
Female sex at age 75 years
Female sex at age 80 years
STEMI vs. elective
NSTEMI vs. elective
Moderate symptoms of HF
Left main stem
Complex stenosis (≥ B2)
Stent diameter [for every mm]
Adjuvant medical therapy, major adverse cardiac and cerebrovascular event (MACCE) and access site complications
Adjuvant medical therapy, MACCE and access site complications in women and men ≥ 70 years
Medical therapy during PCI
ASA i.v. (%)
ASA oral (%)
Procedure related mortality and MACCE
Mortality (intrahospital) (%)
MACCE (Death, MI, Stroke/TIA) (%)
Non-MACCE access site related complications (i.e. bleeding) (%)
The main finding of our analysis is a lower rate of DES in elderly women, which is not in accordance with contemporary guidelines on revascularisation .
Gender, vessel size and DES use
Correlated with a smaller body surface area , women have smaller diameter coronary arteries than men, which explains the inferior results in revascularisation procedures, either PCI  or CABG . In the ALKK (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Leitende Kardiologische Krankenhausärzte)-PCI registry we found that stents used in women were smaller than those used in men, either for BMS and DES (Fig. 2a, b, c). These data indirectly confirm, that women have smaller epicardial vessels. For both genders, DES were more frequently used in smaller vessels, which reflects the fact that our data were derived from 2005 to 2009, before large data on the use of DES in larger vessels were available [16, 17]. The tendency to use DES in smaller vessels suggests women may receive a predominance of DES compared to men. However, univariate analysis showed that women received a lower percentage of DES compared to men between 2005 and 2009 (Fig. 1). Further analysis in a multivariable logistic model revealed that the lower likelihood for women to receive a DES is observed only in women above the age of 75 year.
The finding of less frequent DES use in women were also evident irrespective of different indications for PCI, like stable angina, NSTEMI and STEMI. However, while the difference in the two former were statistically significant, there was only a trend towards a lower usage of DES in the latter (Fig. 3). The higher frequency of DES implantation in stable disease compared to ACS reflects data progression suggesting superiority of DES even in STEMI-ACS . This benefit of DES use in ACS is confined to reduced repeat target revascularisation, rather than lower mortality .
Explanations for the lower use of DES in elderly women
The underuse of DES is an unexpected finding with different possible explanations:
First, the lower rates of DES in older women could be a chance finding. However, the large number of stent implantations and the high significance (p < 0,001) render this explanation unlikely. Furthermore, the adjusted effects show a higher usage of DES in diabetes, whereas ACS and cardiogenic shock were correlated with a lesser use of DES (Table 1). These results are all quite expected and confirm the plausibility of the database.
Another explanation could be an unknown confounder accounting for the findings. Concerns exist regarding DES (and hence dual antiplatelet therapy) use where there is the need for oral anticoagulation, (such as after implantation of a mechanical heart valve or as a result of repeated thrombo-embolic disease). A commonly encountered scenario is dual antiplatelet therapy (DAPT) in addition to oral anticoagulation for patients with atrial fibrillation. The burden of atrial fibrillation is unlikely to explain the disparity in DES use in women over 75 compared to men over 75 however because although information about long term anticoagulation or about atrial fibrillation are not available in our database, the Framingham heart study  suggests atrial fibrillation is 1.5 times more common in men over 75 compared to women over 75 so this in itself is unlikely to explain lower DES use in women of this age. Operators may attribute a higher risk of bleeding to elderly women, which is based on objective data on higher peri-procedural bleeding complications  and a higher prevalence of anemia , that are also predictors of long term mortality , as well as a subjective perception of frailty in elderly women.
Therefore, even if peri-procedural bleeding complications do not differ depending on the stent used, the awareness of a higher liability for bleeding could have encouraged interventionalists to rather use BMS instead of DES, whenever there is a suspected risk of bleeding complications, which is typically encountered in elderly women. Interestingly, the tendency to use BMS instead of DES is confined to the type of stent, since anti-platelet therapy and anticoagulation do not differ (Table 4). Especially the use of GPIIb/IIIa inhibitors, which are known for a higher rate of periprocedural bleeding complications  (Table 4), was similar in both genders.
Actually, our study (Table 4) confirms a substantially higher periprocedural risk of access site complication, bleeding, MACCE and death in women [15, 25, 26]. Given the higher probability of target lesion revascularisations for in stent restenoses with
BMS , elderly women are likely exposed to a higher overall risk due to repeat revascularisation procedures.
Paradoxically, the intention to prevent bleeding complications in women by the use of BMS instead of DES, could actually increase morbidity and mortality.
There could be doubts regarding the efficacy of DES in women, (as women are thought to have less complex coronary lesions  which could be treated equally with BMS or DES), particularly as DES are more expensive than BMS. Indeed, Our data shows, a lower percentage of complex lesions and in-stent restenosis in women comared to men. While there is a lack of improvement for mortality and MI, adequately powered RCTs impressively demonstrated a reduction of target vessel revascularisation with DES compared to BMS, which were similar for both sexes , even in the elderly . These results were confirmed by registry data on the use of DES, that show that these findings proved to be valid in daily practice .
The data from the PCI registry show, that women receive lower percentage of DES compared to men; this difference is significant only for the age groups over 70 years (Fig. 4). However, the age group between 70 and 80 years is the largest in the registry and overall, people older than 70 years account for more than 40% of the sample. Given the high number of PCIs analysed, these data are considered to be clinically relevant, showing that women do not receive best available treatment for coronary artery disease.
Duration of dual anti-platelet therapy
The duration of DAPT was not included in our database, however, according to guidelines, patients with STEMI and NSTEMI received DAPT for 12 month, independent of stent type, while patients with stable CAD received DAPT for one or six month for BMS and DES, respectively. Actually, we found the biggest difference in stent usage in the group with stable angina. Given there are more bleedings, this could explain the tendency to prefer BMS in elderly woman in the era of 1st generation DES.
However, latest data for 2nd generation DES show good results for short DAPT, favouring a DAPT for only three month  in patients with concerns of bleeding. This shortening of DAPT should further reduce the difference in DES use between men and women.
Our large sample, which is representative for current PCI-procedures in Germany provides data on the use of DES and BMS in women and men in different revascularisation settings. However, our study has some limitations.
First, whilst we adjusted for baseline differences, we cannot fully eliminate them. As a result, it is possible that unmeasured confounders (especially atrial fibrillation and oral anticoagulation therapy requirement) exist and may have contributed to the differences observed. Second, the analysis that was performed is retrospective and is, therefore, dependent on the data already collected.
The ALKK-PCI database shows a distinctly lower use of DES in elderly women. This difference is not supported by guidelines or recent published trials. As undertreatment cannot be studied by randomised controlled trials, other available databases on PCI should be analysed for gender differences in DES implantation.
More effort should be made to uniformly implement of current revascularisation guidelines across groups, thereby eliminating gender differences in care.
Acute coronary syndrome
Arbeitsgemeinschaft Leitende Kardiologische Krankenhausärzte
Bare metall stent
Coronary artery bypass grafting
Coronary artery disease
Left circumflex artery
Dual antiplatelet therapy
Drug eluting stent
Left anterior descending artery
Major adverse cardiac and cerebrovascular event
Non ST-elevation myocardial Infarction
Percutaneous coronary intervention
Right coronary artery
Randomized controlled trial
ST-elevation myocardial infarction
We would like to thank Dr. Justin M. Carter, Consultant Cardiologist, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust, helping us with english wording an writing.
The “Institut für Herzinfarkforschung“, a national foundation, provided data and statistical analysis. Further funding does not exist.
Availability of data and materials
All data which are presented in the manuscript are taken from the PCI-registry of the “Institut für Herzinfarkforschung“. On request, these analysis are avaible. Please refer to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Made substantial contributions to data analysis MR, CW, MH, UZ and MW made substantial contibutions to study design and data analysis and interpretation. MR, MH, ZU, SK, RZ, BZ, HT and VS drafted the manuskript or revised it critically for important intellectual content. All authors have given final approval of the version to be published.
None of the authors has competing interests concerning scope and results of the analysis.
Consent for publication
Ethics approval and consent to participate
The study is purely observational and was approved by the ethics committee of the Landesaerztekammer Rheinland-Pfalz. Consent to participate was obtained from every patient after PCI.
Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
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