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Women-focused medical research is saving lives, Heart & Stroke Foundation says

Last Updated Feb 6, 2020 at 7:29 am PDT

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Summary

Heart & Stroke Foundation says progress is being made in medical research focusing on females, but more needs to be done

Report finds women have been under-researched for too long, but advances in heart and brain health are building momentum

Heart disease, stroke are number 1 cause of premature death for women but two-thirds of research is based on men

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Here’s a headline… women are not little men!

That’s the upshot of a new report from the Heart & Stroke Foundation, which finds progress is being made in medical research focusing on females, but more needs to be done.

“The 2020 Heart & Stroke Spotlight on Women: A fighting chance” suggests women have been under-researched for too long, but advances in heart and brain health are building momentum.

“There are real biological differences between the sexes, and not just the obvious ones. Women’s hearts are smaller, with smaller coronary arteries, and plaque builds up in their blood vessels differently,” says Anne Simard, Chief Mission and Research Officer, Heart & Stroke Foundation. “By investing in research focused on women, we are gaining the knowledge to save more lives and create better outcomes.”

“But much remains to be done,” adds Simard. “Women are still paying too high a price for gaps in research, prevention, diagnosis and treatment.”

The report highlights the stories of women with life-threatening diagnoses and how new research is offering hope as they face sex and gender challenges.

Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) is the most common cause of pregnancy-associated heart attacks, and it disproportionately strikes young and otherwise healthy women.

Dr. Jacqueline Saw at the University of British Columbia, a leading expert on SCAD, says she has seen “horror stories” of women in their 30s or 40s turned away from the ER despite heart attack symptoms.

Dr. Saw has developed a way of helping doctors detect SCAD, and with support from Heart & Stroke, her team has identified genes that increase the risk of SCAD.

Within the next five years, she expects to see genetic screening tools, much better rates of diagnosis and better treatment protocols.

Mental and emotional struggles can also be more of a battle for women than men.

Depression strikes women with heart conditions nearly twice as often as men. It increases the risk of a heart attack and increases the chances that an attack will be fatal. And for survivors, it slows recovery.

That’s no surprise to Dr. Paula Harvey at Women’s College Hospital. Her own research found nearly 40% of female patients experience depression after a cardiac event, half with moderate or severe symptoms, yet they were not getting treatment.

“It’s really important that women are heard. There are a lot of things that remain unanswered and that need to be researched,” says Dr. Harvey.

Gender-based differences such as lower socio-economic status, the myth that heart disease is a ‘man’s disease and a tendency to dismiss women’s symptom’s as anxiety also affect women’s health.

Two years ago, Heart & Stroke launched its women’s campaign, aimed at closing the research gap between men and women.

Heart disease and stroke are the number one cause of premature death for women but two-thirds of clinical research is based on men.

More than half of women who experience heart attack symptoms have them go unrecognized.