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The Pipeline

Report from the Women's Heart Health Summit: Increasing awareness for heart disease in women

Rachel Klein

The Women’s Heart Health Summit, sponsored by the Cardiovascular Research Foundation, took place in New York City last week, bringing together both clinical experts on heart failure and peripheral disease as well as advocates in women’s heart to discuss the challenges present in our current system.

While heart disease is the number one killer of women in the U.S., public opinion and many women across the U.S. still believe breast cancer to be a greater threat, emphasizing the need for more education.

At the summit, clinical leaders discussed the lack of awareness surrounding women’s heart health. In their opinion, the stereotype of older men having high rates of heart disease has caused many women delay treatment because they do not recognize the symptoms in themselves. 

Increased awareness was a key theme at the summit as participants noted the need to work more closely with primary care and OB/GYN physicians to prompt education on the risk factors and signs of heart disease. Prominently displayed posters and reading material in physician offices may lead more women to consider screening for heart disease or prompt them to receive treatment when needed. Hospitals must be specific with training and education to avoid an unnecessary influx of patients coming to the ED that do not need care. 

In speaking about treatment for heart failure, one physician noted that only 20% of women who were clinically indicated for a procedure actually received it. Clinicians and summit participants suggested several theories as to why women were not receiving treatment, including male-focused device design, lack of time to seek care, and skepticism of treatment necessity. 

Further, women continue to be underrepresented in clinical trials, comprising only 20 to 30%of all participants. Of women who are eligible to participate in clinical trials, only 50% choose to do so, making it difficult to understand the gender-based differences in efficacy and safety regarding devices. As many studies would like to include more women, panel members discussed new ways to incentivize women to participate in clinical trials, such as providing child care and conducting  more remote check-ins with patients.

For hospitals looking to develop robust women’s heart programs, participation in clinical trials is considered progressive, though not the only defining factor. Increasing education and awareness around the differences between men and women. as well as encouraging patients to better understand their risk. can help promote these hospital services. 

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