Hopefully the consequences of COVID will be a wake-up call to end neglect of women’s heart health


The last thing we need while on vacation – especially in the midst of a global pandemic – is another cause for concern, but women, in particular, should be concerned about their heart health.

Ten years ago, we joined forces to address gender inequalities in cardiovascular research, treatment and prevention. We knew that heart disease was considered a “disease of men” despite being the number one killer of women in the United States, that women were excluded from research studies, and that even many doctors did not. did not know that the hearts and symptoms of women and men are not the same.

But we never imagined that a pandemic would hamper our progress. This is what is happening today.

Researchers predict a ‘tsunami’ of heart disease and other chronic illnesses, a confluence of the COVID-19 crisis, in which heart disease deaths accelerated, and holiday heart syndrome, the spike in alcohol – and stress-related heart disease.

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Yet among the repercussions the pandemic will have on the long-term health of American women, we have heard little about its impact on our hearts – a reflection of the inequity and pattern of neglect that we are combating in our systems. health, and beyond, for generations.

A disproportionate impact

What we need now is a concentrated and strengthened effort to address gender and race inequalities in the quality of cardiac care. And we need a lot more research on women and heart disease – what makes them different, how best to prevent and treat them. Cardiovascular disease kills about 10 times more women a year than breast cancer. For example, in 2018, more than 420,000 women died of cardiovascular disease while 42,465 died of breast cancer in the same year.

However, few women know the basics to protect themselves.

We know that the coronavirus has a direct impact on the cardiovascular system of those infected, which we are learning more about every day. This overwhelming wave of cardiovascular disease will likely disproportionately affect women, especially women of color and low-income women, who are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease.

To make matters worse, compared to men, heart disease in women remains under-recognized, under-researched and underestimated, and women are under-represented in clinical trials.

This must change.

Broken heart syndrome

We have long known that stress is one of the main culprits of heart disease, and a study published in October and co-authored by Dr Bairey Merz, builds on this and should serve as a fair warning. It found that from 2006 to 2017, women over the age of 50 were diagnosed with Takotsubo syndrome, or “broken heart syndrome” – a heart attack-like event resulting from stress – up to nine times higher. than men of any age group.

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Future research will most likely show a substantial spike due to COVID-19, continuing a troubling trend: The number of women dying from heart disease has increased every year over the past decade, especially among young women of color.

Part of the reason is that women are less likely than men to get the treatment they need when they are hospitalized and more likely to do badly after a heart attack.

Yet only 1 in 5 American women understand that heart disease is the leading cause of death.

Less than half of primary care physicians and cardiologists feel well prepared to assess cardiovascular disease in women.

That all of this is happening in 2021 is unacceptable.

Know the risk

Certainly, we need research and investment to bring about systemic change. However, we also know enough to implement a simple solution right now: Tell women they’re in danger, and tell them how to save their hearts.

It starts by educating women about the symptoms of a heart attack, which include jaw pain, shortness of breath, back pain, extreme fatigue, nausea, and dizziness – far from the stereotypical image of a man clutching his chest in pain.

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We can also encourage women to talk about heart disease with their friends and family. Organizations like WomenHeart provide peer-to-peer support, which is essential both for healthy recovery and in fighting the stigma that still surrounds heart disease.

We need a national wake-up call. Campaigns supported by the federal government, sustained over a period of several years and properly funded, have been shown to be very effective in raising awareness of smoking, diabetes and other diseases and, ultimately, in improving outcomes. health in the United States.

A similar public health education campaign on heart disease could raise awareness among the most vulnerable women nationwide, educate doctors and the public about gender differences in symptoms and treatment, and would benefit those over 43. million women in the United States living with or at risk for heart disease.

What are we waiting for?

COVID-19 is likely to be endemic, persistent like the seasonal flu, and creating a more dangerous variable for women’s heart health. Hopefully this pandemic will end the historical oblivion of this crucial issue for women. There is no more time – and no more excuses.

Barbra Streisand is founder of the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center in Cedars-Sinai, Los Angeles and co-founder, along with Ronald O. Perelman, of the Women’s Heart Alliance. Dr C. Noel Bairey Merz is Director of the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center, the Linda Joy Pollin Women’s Heart Health Program, and the Erika J. Glazer Women’s Heart Research Initiative at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, where she is Professor of Medicine.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Women’s Heart Health: Barbra Streisand On Long-Term Problems With COVID

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