Cardiovascular diseases kill more women each year than the next five causes of death combined, according to the American Heart Association.
I could've been one of those women.
Five years ago, I was a 41-year-old avid athlete who had no idea women my age could get heart disease. That ignorance could have cost me my life. But once I finally did go to cardiologists, I lost almost two years of my life due to mis-diagnosis, treatments and procedures that failed or caused life-threatening complications, which lead to my bypass four years ago. Unfortunately, I am not alone. There are thousands of women in this country who are misdiagnosed, have delayed diagnosis, mistreatment and inappropriate treatment for their hearts.
More women die from cardiovascular diseases than men do, yet less than 15 percent of women perceive heart disease to be their greatest health risk. For minority women, the statistics are even more troubling. For example, nearly half of African-American women (45 percent) have some form of cardiovascular disease, compared to 32 percent of white women. Unfortunately, too many women are paying the price for a lack of awareness.
This is a problem Congress needs to address. I am urging everyone to support the HEART for Women Act -- bipartisan legislation aimed at improving the prevention, treatment and diagnosis of heart disease and stroke in women. Please contact your congressmen and congresswomen about supporting this bill! The bill is intended to close gaps in the treatment of cardiovascular disease in women and give both women and health care providers crucial information to help reduce the death rate.
Although we know more today about cardiovascular disease and the risk factors, much more could be done to address disparities in treatment and prevention for women. Surprisingly, many physicians are not getting the message. A recent American Heart Association survey found that only eight percent of primary care physicians recognized that heart disease kills more women each year than men. As a result, women are less likely to undergo aggressive screenings which can reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke and are not recommended for certain diagnostic testing and treatments, such as angioplasties and stents.
But the problem doesn't end there. We need to address the lack of gender-specific information in new drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For about one-third of new drugs approved by the FDA, doctors and patients do not have sufficient information about their safety and effectiveness in women. Women represent just 38 percent of subjects in cardiovascular studies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The HEART for Women Act takes a multi-pronged approach in educating women and health care providers and ensuring the effectiveness of new medication in women. The legislation would raise awareness and provide training for health care providers, tighten FDA requirements for reporting gender-specific data about new and experimental medicines and devices, and expand the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's WISEWOMAN screening programs to all 50 states. The program provides free heart disease and stroke prevention screening, such as tests for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, for low-income, uninsured women at risk for heart disease and stroke.
The risks for cardiovascular disease in women have been clearly evident for decades yet it continues to take a devastating toll, claiming the lives of mothers and daughters and costing our nation millions of dollars in health care costs. This year, cardiovascular diseases will cost Americans more than $400 billion in medical expenses and lost productivity. As researchers continue to explore ways to reduce death and disability from cardiovascular disease, women have not benefited as much as men from the advances in treatment over the past decades and provisions in this bill can help change that. By supporting the HEART for Women Act, together we can help put women on equal footing with men in the fight against cardiovascular disease.
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