More Women Participating in Cardiovascular Research Will Save Lives

Mary McGowan

When was the last time you stopped to think about your heart?

If you can’t remember, it’s probably because it’s been a while. Many of us try to follow a healthy diet and exercise, if time permits, but it’s difficult to make your heart a priority if you don’t know how.

Only 55 percent of women actually know that heart disease is their number one killer. Too many women are not aware of the prevalence, risk factors, symptoms, and ability to control their heart health.

In fact, a new study released in the journal Circulation on Feb. 20 underscores the gender differences in symptoms of heart attacks for women under 55. The misinterpretation of symptoms puts these younger women at a greater risk of death than men of the same age. 

With nearly 48 million women living with or at risk for heart disease, it’s critical that women know how to protect their hearts. One in 4 women will die of heart disease, but experts say that 80 percent of heart disease is preventable.

At WomenHeart, that’s what we do; we fight every day to spread the word that heart disease is the leading cause of death in women. We advocate, educate, and support women living with or at risk for heart disease.

Together, we can make a difference in the lives of millions of women. We’ve come a long way but we have much work to be done. We need more women represented in clinical trials; right now, some new drugs in development only have 30 percent of women in their clinical trials. This has a negative impact on all women because without female participation in clinical trials, it’s impossible for us to know how treatment strategies work for women.

Research needs to reflect the wide range of biological differences between women and men and how they affect treatment. In particular, we need to continue raising awareness about how African American, Native American, Latina and Asian women are at higher risk. Research shows that Latinas are more likely to develop heart disease 10 years earlier than white women. Nearly 47 percent of African American women have high blood pressure, a risk factor of heart disease, and nearly 48,000 women die each year from cardiovascular disease. American Indians/Alaska Natives almost two and a half times more likely to develop diabetes, a risk factor for heart disease.

It is critical that more women enroll in clinical trials so that we can better understand and treat heart disease in women. The more that women are studied, the more the science shows how different heart disease in women can be and is.

As we close out another Heart Month, we urge Congress to invest more in research for women’s heart health. We urge more women to participate in clinical trials so we get gender-specific treatment tailored to women. And we urge all of you to have conversations with the women in your life about the importance of preventive measures, knowing their family history, and taking charge of their heart health.

Mary McGowan is CEO of WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease.

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If concerted, long-term investments in research are not made, America will lose an entire generation of young scientists.
Brenda Canine, PhD; McLaughlin Research Institute, Montana