February is National Heart Month
FACTS NOT MANY PEOPLE KNOW!
- Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined.
- There are 43 million women in US affected by heart disease.
- 23% of white women, 38% of black women, and 36% Mexican American women are obese. Obesity leads to an increased risk of premature death due to cardiovascular problems like hypertension, stroke and coronary artery disease.
- Hispanic women are likely to develop heart disease 10 years earlier than Caucasian women.
- Hispanic women are more likely to take preventive actions for their family when it comes to heart health.
- Of African American women ages 20 and older, 46.9 percent have cardiovascular disease1
- Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for African American women.
Source: Heart Disease and Stroke 2012 Statistical Update.
Gender and Heart Disease
by the Go Red For Women Editors
Every minute in the United States, someone’s wife, mother, daughter or sister dies from a form of heart disease. And although heart disease death rates among men have declined steadily over the last 25 years, rates among women have fallen significantly less.
Why? A difference in symptoms between men and women may have something to do with it.
Men and women alike can experience the well-known heart attack symptoms like gripping chest pains and breaking out in a cold sweat. But women can also have subtler, less recognizable symptoms such as pain or discomfort in the stomach, jaw, neck or back, nausea and shortness of breath. As a result, women are often unaware that what they’re experiencing is a heart attack. So what happens? Women blow off the warning signs, assuming something else is the problem.
To add to the problem, women’s healthcare providers may misdiagnose these symptoms, and the result is that women discover their heart disease when it’s too late. Men, on the other hand, seem to benefit from having more frequently participated in clinical trials, and more aggressive diagnostic testing and treatment. So is it any wonder that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women?
Here are some staggering disparities:
- Women age 45 and younger are more likely than men to die within a year of their first heart attack.
- Only 65 percent of women said the first thing they would do if they thought they were having a heart attack was to call 9-1-1.
- Men are 2 to 3 times more likely than women to receive an implantable defibrillator for the prevention of sudden cardiac death.
- Previous studies and clinical trials have often been done with inadequate numbers of women in the study population, representing just 38 percent of subjects.
- In addition, 3/4 of cardiovascular clinical trials do not report sex-specific results, making it difficult for researchers and clinicians to draw conclusions about their effects on women.
The battle for women’s hearts — and lives.
Barbra Streisand is co-founder of the Women’s Heart Alliance.
My eyes were opened to gender inequality when I was 26.
I’d decided I wanted to make a movie based on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s story of Yentl, a young woman who has to pretend she’s a man to get an education. It was hard to convince anyone that an actress could direct, that a woman could manage a budget or that a mainstream audience would care about this scholarly female protagonist. Multiple studios turned us down. Yentl took 14 years to get made. I’m proud to say it came in on budget and went on to win several major awards. But, more important, it ignited my passion for ensuring women get the same chances in life as men.
Many years later, I was staggered to learn about something called “the Yentl syndrome” — a phrase coined in 1991 by then-director of the National Institutes of Health Bernadine Healy to illuminate a medical disparity. Healy found that women who had heart attacks were not getting the same quality of care as men. Unless a woman’s symptoms looked just like a man’s, too often she would be misdiagnosed or undertreated — which helps explain why, for the past 30 years, more women than men have died of heart disease.
In other words, when it came to heart disease, women weren’t getting the same chance in life, literally. And that’s still true. Too many women are dying before their time — our mothers, sisters, daughters, friends and co-workers.
We’ve got to focus people’s minds on the battle for women’s hearts.
Many people have no idea that heart disease kills a woman almost every minute or that the incidence of heart attacks in younger women has been increasing. Many don’t know that women’s heart disease symptoms are frequently different from or more subtle than men’s, that their first signs of a heart attack may be nausea, backache, extreme fatigue or shortness of breath, instead of crushing pain in the chest.
Many people are unaware that women who have heart attacks are more likely than men to die within a year. Most have no clue that heart research is primarily done on males, right down to the mice in the labs.
So, while we’ve made important progress against heart disease in women, we need to finish the fight. And we need everyone, women and men, to make this a priority.
First, we need to create vigorous awareness campaigns that reach the groups most at risk. Nearly half of African American women have some form of cardiovascular disease, yet only 36 percent are aware that heart disease is the leading cause of death for this demographic group. Let’s take inspiration from the fight against breast cancer, which has helped reduce death rates by a third from their peak. Today, breast cancer kills about 1 in 31 women, while heart disease kills 1 in 3.
Second, we need to maximize the screening opportunities we already have. Heart disease is largely preventable, but people need proactive screening and support. More than 86 percent of U.S. women say they met with a health-care professional in the past year, so let’s make sure patients and doctors alike prioritize assessing heart health as a part of those encounters. What we don’t know can hurt us: 64 percent of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease show no prior symptoms.
Third, we need more aggressive investment in diagnostics and treatments and to develop new tools and testing standards specifically for women. Cardiovascular disease claims more lives than all cancers combined; let’s attack it with the same intensity and determination we’ve brought to cancer.
Fourth, we need to ensure women’s full representation in biomedical studies. I’m encouraged that the NIH recently imposed new requirements to ensure experiments include female lab animals and cell lines, but there’s more work to be done. The Food and Drug Administration’s new online “Drug Trial Snapshots” reveal the persistent gender and racial imbalances in pharmaceutical trials. I hope these revelations will spark changes in how products and devices are approved. Women account for more than half of heart disease deaths, so why are they only one-third of participants in cardiovascular disease trials?
We must inspire everyone to join forces against this killer, with all the energy and ingenuity that make this country great. Let’s not miss a beat in promoting heart health and saving women’s lives.
Prevalence and Extent of Atherosclerosis in Adolescents and Young Adults 15-35: Atherosclerosis begins in youth, with a rapid increase in prevalence and extent during the 15 to 34-year age span. Prevention of atherosclerosis must begin in childhood or adolescence.