Raising Awareness about Cardiovascular Disease in Women
February is American Heart Month, a time dedicated to increasing awareness about ways to prevent, diagnose, treat and thrive with heart disease. On behalf of the 43 million women living with or at risk for heart disease, WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease urges Congress to increase support for research and access to high quality, affordable health care for all women. Research and access to care are critically important in the fight against heart disease, the leading cause of death for women.
Evidence-based diagnostic techniques, treatments and rehabilitation services make it possible for patients to maintain a healthy and productive lifestyle, even after a heart disease diagnosis.
Research studies that include women, with results that are analyzed and reported by sex, can help women make informed treatment decisions in close collaboration with their health care team. Yet there is insufficient research into the distinct sex differences that exist between men and women with cardiovascular disease (CVD). In the absence of sex-specific data, it is difficult to draw accurate conclusions about benefits or risks to women for a particular drug or device.
Improved participation rates of women in CVD trials, with analysis by sex and improved reporting, would have a profound impact on how heart disease in women is managed and treated: more women in clinical trials would result in more appropriate prevention and early detection, more accurate diagnosis and more effective treatment for all women with heart disease. Research on women with heart disease must be adequately funded to generate this critically important data.
But research without access to care will not result in better outcomes for women. Access to primary care offers women the opportunity to develop a relationship with a team to guide their decisions throughout the care continuum. Prompt referrals to specialty care and cardiac rehabilitation, with streamlined referrals to subspecialty care as needed, will ensure that appropriate care is not delayed. Comprehensive coverage for cardiac testing, treatments, and devices allows women to focus on their treatment and not their bank accounts. Finally, care coordination – with specific attention to sex differences – will enable women, especially elderly women with co-morbidities, to maintain their treatment and medication regimen.
WomenHeart is on the front lines in our communities supporting and advocating for women with heart disease. With the help of our dedicated WomenHeart Champions, our trained volunteer network of women living with heart disease, we educate women to take charge of their heart health, lead Support Networks, and provide online and telephone support. We know just how much they rely upon research and access to care every day.
With greater investment, research and access to care can help women with heart disease live longer, healthier lives. Visit us at www.womenheart.org for more information.
Mary McGowan is Chief Executive Officer at WomenHeart: the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease.