Women and Heart Disease: Why Research Matters

Health Writer

To date we know that heart disease is the number one killer of women and men in the U.S. We also know that differences exist between women and men with regard to symptoms and survival. Public acknowledgment that women were long underrepresented in heart-disease research has precipitated accelerated studies in women. Clinical studies can take months to years to complete, but upon completion, study results ensure progress by informing guidelines on preventing, diagnosing, and treating heart disease in women.

We appreciate the empowerment that comes with being informed, and we are confident that our readers share our thirst for knowledge. That’s why we want to you to be aware of a few key issues that the American Heart Association, based on published studies, shared in 2015 to establish research priorities.

  • A study revealed that women incorrectly assess their risk of heart disease, do not practice preventive behaviors, and delay medical care, which might explain younger women’s increased risk of a fatal heart attack compared to men

  • A study of veterans who had their first cardiac catheterization revealed that women were younger, more likely to be obese, depressed, and suffer from post-traumatic stress order, and less likely than the men studied to have blocked arteries

  • Among persons who suffer from atrial fibrillation (AFib, an irregular, rapid heartbeat), women have greater risk for stroke than men

  • Women are just as likely to have heart failure as men, but more likely to die from it

  • Women are just as likely as men to benefit from advanced therapies such as heart transplant and left ventricular assist device (LVAD), but are less likely to be referred for those therapies or tend to be referred at a later stage

What additional differences between women and men have been revealed in study results published in 2016?

  • After coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), women are more likely to be readmitted with myocardial infarction and congestive heart failure than men, but both sexes experience similar survival.
  • Depression after CABG is more common in women and is a predictor of long-term survival, but less than 50 percent of cardiologists ask patients if they are experiencing depression, so it is often not recognized and treated.
  • An epidemiologic study of cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk and mortality in young adults with long-standing Type 1 diabetes showed increased risk in women, calling for more aggressive risk factor management.

Results from studies such as the preceding will guide interventions to resolve problems and help define the direction of future studies. In the meantime, it’s important to be an advocate for the sustained momentum of clinical research on women and heart disease. Advocacy is about stimulating informed communication within communities and workplaces, health organizations and foundations, and medical centers and multilevel government agencies. Learn as much as possible, Go Red for Women, and champion intensified clinical research studies to reduce the number of yearly diagnoses and deaths from heart disease, the nation’s number one killer of women.