Medtech POV Blog

Prioritizing Heart Health in Women Across the Health System

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, but historically—and even today—women are underrepresented in heart disease research, can be overlooked in the clinical care setting when it comes to cardiovascular care, and too many women in the United States (44%) do not recognize heart disease as their number one killer.

Women have historically been left out of cardiovascular research, and medical research generally, due to a belief that studying females would be difficult due to female hormones, or that it may harm women and their future fertility. We now know these beliefs to be false, but the assumptions have left their mark on research:

As these gaps in research make their way through the health care system, they have implications for patient outcomes, likely affecting the way both providers and patients think about heart disease. This plays out in the health care setting in the following ways:

Another challenge to improving upon these outcomes is that only 13% of cardiologists are women, and women remain underrepresented in cardiovascular research leadership and publications.

It will take a comprehensive and multidimensional approach – from additional women-focused health care provider education, to improved clinical trial diversity, to culturally sensitive and tailored public education resources, to greater policy support – to improve women’s heart health outcomes.

Earlier this year, the Society for Women’s Health Research released a heart health policy agenda that outlines several ways that we tackle the gender disparity in heart health. Among the recommendations made are to:

These recommendations represent just some of the changes that are needed to meaningfully improve women’s heart health outcomes across the lifespan. Read the recommendations in the policy agenda, “Improving Women’s Heart Health Outcomes Across the Lifespan.”

Heart disease is considered an “invisible illness”; it is not visible to others and may be difficult to diagnose. But by championing heart health—by raising awareness among women about their personal risk for heart disease and ensuring that diverse populations of women are sufficiently represented in cardiovascular clinical trials—we can reduce the disease burden of heart disease in the United States and save lives.

Improving heart health research, treatment, and education for women is a rising tide that will lift all of us. Join SWHR this Women’s Health Month and all year long as we work toward a society where cardiovascular health is prioritized and supported at individual, community, and systemic levels.