It’s Heart Week and despite the fact that half of the 17.3 million deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD) each year happen in females¹, women are still being discriminated against when it comes to the management and treatment of this disease.
Women are more likely than men to be under-diagnosed and under-treated, mostly because the presentation, progression and outcomes of the disease are different and less understood in women than in men.
Although there has been progress in raising awareness about CVD in women and studying the specifics of the disease, as well as in adapting CVD treatment and care for women, the gap is still too wide. A group of leading experts at the World Heart Federation’s World Congress of Cardiology (WCC) is calling for further research, better information for healthcare professionals and women, and tailor-made treatments to bridge this gap once and for all.
In a sample of 2000 Australian women, Professor Worrall-Carter, Director of St Vincent’s Centre for Nursing Research (SVCNR) & The Cardiovascular Research Centre (CvRC) in Melbourne, found that women aged 35-59 years experiencing acute coronary syndromes were less likely than men to undergo coronary interventions. Future research investigating symptom presentation of younger women as well as exploring perceptions of health care workers is needed, as it could explain the reasons for this disparity, says Professor Worrall-Carter.
“We need to ensure that all health professionals understand gender differences when it comes to cardiovascular disease. Awareness regarding atypical symptom presentations of women and understanding healthcare workers perceptions are key to ensure women are getting the most appropriate and timely treatment, no matter their age or background.”
Women themselves also need to be better informed. CVD is the number one killer of women, but the risk of dying or becoming seriously harmed due to heart disease and stroke is still largely underestimated by the majority of women, who do not perceive CVD as one of their major health concerns.
In 2007, the National Heart Foundation of Australia (HFA) acknowledged the problem of under-recognition, under research and under treatment of heart disease amongst women and decided that it was time to take action. By developing an awareness campaign, heart disease amongst women in Australia has become better recognised and awareness of this as a killer of women has increased in the population. Today, 40% of women are aware that CVD is their number one killer compared to 20% in 2009.
Anne Mitchell, Director of Cardiovascular Health Programs at the HFA said: “Over the next five years, the National Heart Foundation of Australia plan to switch their focus from awareness raising to more direct support of women diagnosed with heart disease. This will include a heightened focused on women’s clinical risk factors of heart disease; the atypical symptoms often associated with heart attack; the importance of cardiac rehabilitation and the necessity of sex specific data collection to enable better gender analysis of service provision and use.”
Go Red for Women
Together with its members across the world, the World Heart Federation runs the annual Go Red for Women campaign to improve women’s knowledge of heart disease and stroke so that they can take action and achieve longer, better heart-healthy lives. On Tuesday 6 May, the World Congress of Cardiology will celebrate Wear Red day and everyone is encouraged to wear something red to raise awareness of CVD in women.
Go Red for Women was created by the American Heart Association to improve women’s knowledge of heart disease and is run globally by over 50 member organisations of the World Heart Federation.
2014 marks the sixth year of Go Red for Women in Australia. For more information visit the website: www.heartfoundation.org.au
Women and cardiovascular disease. World Heart Federation. http://www.world-heart-federation.org/press/fact-sheets/women-and-cardiovascular-disease/. Accessed April 2014