For Decades Ignored, Women’s Heart Health Better Understood

Women are, in general, more comfortable discussing their feelings with friends and reporting their symptoms to doctors.

At the same time, physicians are more likely to evaluate men for heart disease – despite equally high levels of heart disease in women.

Why is that? That was the focus of a session with National Press Foundation fellows by Dr. Noel Bairey Merz, director of the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Bairey Merz chairs the National Institutes of Health-sponsored Women’s Ischemic Syndrome Evaluation – WISE – initiative, a long-running investigation into potential methods for more effective diagnosis and evaluation of ischemic heart disease in women.

In 1984, for the first time, more women died of cardiovascular disease than men. The WISE study started in the mid-1990s to find out why – and what do to about it.

“More and more women were dying, and fewer and fewer men,” she said. Now in its 25th year, WISE has helped identify some of the main causes and heart disease in women – and helped to eliminate some of the undertreatment and underdiagnosis of women.

“Women started getting treated,” she said. “Finally, we bent the curve for women… But we think probably we have some more work to be done.”

Fellows also heard from Dr. Martha Gulati (bio, Twitter), chief of cardiology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix and co-author of “Saving Women’s Hearts”; she dissected some of the common reasons why women have historically been undertreated when it comes to heart disease and heart attack.

It starts, she said, with the simple truth that people are less likely to resuscitate a woman than a man. Why? Worry about touching them improperly, fear of hurting them.

“I would rather have a broken rib and be alive,” she said.

This program is funded by Bayer. NPF is solely responsible for the content.

Dr. Martha Gulati
Chief of cardiology, University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix
Dr. Noel Bairey Merz
Director, Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center, Smidt Heart Institute Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
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