Heart Disease And Women Must Be A National Priority
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for all women, killing 460,000 of us every year. And if it doesn't kill us, I can tell you as a woman living with heart disease; it changes every single day of the rest of your life. Constant uncertainty, doctors' appointments, medication ups and downs, surgical procedures, not to mention medical bills, all wreak havoc on our ability to take care of our families and maintain a profession.
One study shows the death rate in women with heart disease ages 35-44, rose between 1997 and 2002. These are busy mothers and professional women cut down in the prime of life. And while there was a huge decline in death from heart disease in men (17.5%) in the past 30 years, it has decreased a mere 2.5% in women of all ages. This chasm may grow even larger as disparities in the way women are treated compared to men persist.
Doctors and advocates agree there are multiple reasons why heart disease in women is so catastrophic and why there are no easy solutions.
Heart disease in women is routinely misdiagnosed by physicians. Despite established hospital and physician guidelines for heart patients, more women are dying in the hospital after a heart attack because they do not receive the same care as men. Some doctors seem stuck in the mindset of the 1960s when the idea took root that heart disease is a "man's disease" and only impacts older men. Ninety percent of primary care doctors don't know that heart disease kills more women than men.
We do know that early detection and management of key risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol, blood pressure, obesity and diabetes, can reduce a woman's risk of developing heart disease by as much as 80 percent. However, too many women are unaware of their own risks for heart disease or that symptoms they are experiencing could be heart-related. This is particularly true for minority women who tend to have multiple risk factors, and may not have regular access to primary or preventive health care.
One of the greatest obstacles to reaching parity in the care and treatment of women with heart disease is the lack of solid cardiovascular research focused solely on women. We need conclusive evidence of gender specific disease indicators so we can shape guidelines for women. Unfortunately this knowledge gap breeds the disparities in care and treatment which, as a woman heart attack survivor, I find unacceptable.
We need to do much more to make sure women and the medical community understand the risk women face of dying from heart disease. For a decade, WomenHeart, the national coalition for women with heart disease, has been working to educate all women about their risks for heart disease. They also advocate for better care and treatment for women living with heart disease.
Heart disease in women must become a national health care priority.
The HEART for Women Act, due to be introduced in Congress this month (February 12), will fund programs to educate health care providers and women about the prevalence, warning signs and treatment of heart disease in women. It will authorize Medicare to conduct an awareness campaign for older women. It will require the Federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to report health data by gender, race and ethnicity in order to shed new light on physiological difference among specific populations. And it will expand the WISEWOMAN (Well-Integrated Screening and Evaluation for Women Across the Nation) to provide screening for low-income women at risk for heart disease and stroke.
Unlike most disease cures, which require a miracle of discovery, this legislation includes common sense solutions that will help save the lives of countless women across the United States.
Carol Allred, of Harker Heights, Texas, is a heart attack survivor and the president of WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease (www.womenheart.org).
Contact: To reach Ms. Allred, contact Susan Laine at WomenHeart 202-728-7199