No. 1 killer: Heart-disease research has neglected women

Published June 13, 2007 6:52 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Women are acutely aware of the dangers of breast cancer: Symbolic pink ribbons adorn ads and signs promoting events to raise money for breast cancer research. They encourage women to get screening tests.

But the reality is that women have a far greater risk of dying from heart disease. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death among women and kills six times more women than does breast cancer.

The alarming truth is that doctors know far too little about heart disease in women. Researchers for decades have focused primarily on diagnosis, prevention and treatment for white, middle-aged men. Fewer than one physician in five interviewed in a 2004 survey knew that more women than men die annually from heart disease.

That ignorance only adds to the dangers of the disease for women, and that is inexcusable.

A study by a Utah researcher is further evidence that women are neglected in treatment for heart disease. The study debunked an accepted myth that women do not benefit as much as men from a device that can successfully treat patients with advanced heart failure. Only a third of recipients of the pacemaker defibrillator are women, although this study shows women patients improve as much as men when the device is implanted. Complications such as blood clots and infection happened no more often to women than men.

But this kind of knowledge is all too rare.

Research usually either does not include women or does not focus specifically on them. So many women and their doctors do not know that women's symptoms of a heart attack differ from men's. Fewer women are diagnosed because their symptoms are overlooked and fewer are counseled about preventive care and how to recognize signs of the disease.

Women are paying a high price for this ignorance. More die from a subsequent heart attack than do men and more women than men die in the hospital after a heart attack.

A national survey in 2005 showed nearly half of women respondents did not know that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women. Only a third considered themselves at risk.

Maybe a creative marketing campaign should focus more attention on heart-disease awareness. It's certain that what women, and their physicians, don't know about this disease can kill them.

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