Dr. Holly Andersen is a New York cardiologist who once told a Clinton Health Matters conference audience how frustrating it feels when she is able to impact only the women who come in to see her. She believes that increasing public awareness of heart disease can save lives, and this must start with women. Dr. Holly likes to say that “if you can educate a woman, you educate the family.” Here’s her sobering take on what she calls the “big disconnect” in women’s heart disease awareness, prevention and treatment: *
“A woman having a heart attack today will wait longer before presenting to an emergency room. She will be less likely to have the classic symptom of chest pain, she will be less likely to have a diagnostic electrocardiogram, and not surprisingly, she will be less likely to be diagnosed correctly. Even if she is diagnosed correctly, she will be less likely to receive all the lifesaving therapies we have to treat heart attacks today, and even if the decision is made to give her these therapies, they will be given, on average, at a 13-minute time delay compared to a man. For those of us who treat heart attacks, we have a saying, time is muscle.
“And even if you control for all of these variables, a woman will still be more likely to die from her heart attack than a man, and it is the youngest women who have the greatest death discrepancy rates compared to the youngest men. And we don’t know why.
“We are working to change this through enrolling more women in clinical research trials, because most of what we have learned about heart disease has come from studies on men, designed by men, and this has greatly benefited men – but women have not fared as well. Death rates due to heart disease have been falling for decades in this country for men – not so for women – and now death rates due to heart disease appear to be increasing in our youngest adults (age 35-54) and increasing faster in young women.
“Even incredibly powerful women too often become timid when it concerns their health. I had a female executive who apologized to her EMS team for bothering them during her heart attack. Another patient of mine – a life coach – who, when she ‘knew she was going to die’ from her heart symptoms, put on her make up and packed her bags before calling 911.
“One of the great things about being a cardiologist is that there is so much we can do to prevent heart disease. Prevention is crucial because too often the first symptom of heart disease is sudden death.
“But to practice prevention, you have to know you are at risk. Awareness that heart disease is the #1 killer of women is increasing, but women are not personalizing this. We are not taking action.”
© 2014 Clinton Foundation
* Dr. Holly Andersen is the director of Education and Outreach at the Perelman Heart Institute at The New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. This column originally appeared on the Clinton Foundation blog.
Learn more about cardiac risk factors in women, and how YOU can address those risks.
Q: What needs to happen before both women and physicians can close this ‘big disconnect’?
NOTE FROM CAROLYN: I wrote about life as a heart patient in my book, “A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease“ , published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2017. You can ask for it at your local library or favourite bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon, or order it directly from my publisher (use their code HTWN to save 20% off the list price).