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Getting to the Heart of Women’s Health

Giesler, CaitlinsmIn my cardiology practice, I’ve found that many of my patients still tend to think of heart disease as a “man’s disease” – something that would be more likely to affect their husband or father or brother than themselves.  But the reality is that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States, and its symptoms are not always what you might expect.  And for busy women balancing work, family and friends, it’s not surprising that those symptoms can often go unnoticed or even ignored. 

A new presentation delivered at the Acute Cardiac Care Congress shows that heart attacks remain more deadly for women than men. The research group showed that there was a higher rate for intra-hospital death from acute heart attacks in women versus men (9% vs 4.4%). This difference was seen on an international level, meaning that women around the world are dying from acute heart attacks at higher rates than men.

Why is there still such a big difference in death rates?  The research group has some ideas:

  1. Women had longer delay between onset of symptoms and calling for medical assistance.
  2. Women had longer delay between presentation to the hospital and coronary interventions (treatments).
  3. Women were less likely to receive recommended treatments upon discharge from the hospital.

These are the same points I have been educating my patients about for many years.  But it’s up to all of us to help change these statistics.

How can we help close the gap?

  1. We need to continue to spread the word that heart disease IS a woman’s disease. We need to continue to improve community awareness. Tell your family. Tell your friends. Tell your neighbors.
  2. We need to continue to educate physicians that heart disease IS a woman’s disease.
  3. We need to continue studying the biological differences between heart disease in women and men. It may be that some treatments were not prescribed upon hospital discharge because they were not appropriate. We need to find treatments that women tolerate and that will help prevent more disease. We need to find new ways of diagnosing heart disease that may be unique to women. There is still a lot to learn.

Caitlin Giesler is a board certified cardiologist with Seton Heart Institute in Austin, Texas.  She is a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology and a member of the American Heart Association and the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology. She is also a member of the Texas Medical Association and the Travis County Medical Society. Dr. Giesler has a special interest in research, prevention and treatment of heart disease prevention in women. She will speak at the 2013 Texas Conference for Women at the Health & Wellness Pavilion stage.