Cardiac disease is an excellent example of sex/ gender health disparities. Cardiac disease is not unique in women - it is the number one killer of men and women in the US. Women fear dying of breast cancer, but die most of heart disease. So, how is it a disparity? Since 1984, more women have died of heart disease as compared to men (even though it occurs in men and usually ten years earlier!)
DIFFERENT WAYS IT CAN PRESENT - Heart related diseases can present differently in women. Yes, women can have the 'classic' findings of obstructive heart disease as men - exertional chest pressure that radiates down the arm and is relieved with rest. But they can have other findings that may be viewed as atypical - yet are typical for women: unexplained fast heart beat (tachycardia); nausea; unexplained fatigue; inability to do housework or typical tasks (esp seen in elderly women) and even more alarming, 1 in 4 women may not have any complaints at all! Thus, we need to screen EVERYONE for heart risk (high, medium and low) and evaluate appropriately.
DIFFERENT THRESHOLDS TO PREVENT AND TREAT - Although, heart health awareness are creating change, women still have lower rates of screening for lipids and heart health as compared to their male counterparts. A well known study created vignettes of 'classic' cardiac symptoms and changed the ethnicity (white versus black) and gender. The scripts were exactly the same. Physicians most likely recommended cardiac catheterization to men over women patients. Another 2007 study found that physicians still intervene less with women and heart disease.
SO WHAT SHOULD WE DO? - Collectively and personally, we all need to be more aware of heart health risk factors - for clinicians as well as for patients be they children, men or women. Getting into the risk assessment habit (high, medium, low and optimal) for everyone helps overcome the selective focus of missing half of the population.
A Sampling of Great Web Resources
Our webpage (Women's Health Education Program)
Women’s Health Initiative
DHHS Office of Women’s Health
Food information planning site Mypyramid.gov Want to know how many calories you eat? What's in the food that you love? Check this site out.
Society for Women’s Health Research
The Heart Truth: Resources for health professionals (videos of patients; patient cases and slides)
NHBLI: National Heart Blood Lung Institute (great resources on heart health)
Video on taking a heart health history and the role of gender and ethnicity in heart health risk
– Gender and Ethnic Medicine Cardiac Disease and Women
– IOM Report Sex Matters 2001 Evidence based report highlighting the difference that sex/gender makes in health.
– Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics-2010 Update, American Heart Association. A ton of great graphs and info here.
– HRSA Women's Databook - each years data book has useful health information on various topics.
-Sentinel article on heart health and women Evidence-based guidelines for cardiovascular disease prevention in women L Mosca, LJ Appel, EJ Benjamin, K Berra, N … - Circulation, 2004
-CDC BMI Online Calculator