Women & Heart Disease (2-12-2007) 

February is American Heart Month, and it serves as an important reminder of the need to address the impact of heart disease on women.

Every minute in this country, someone's mother, sister, wife or friend will die from heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. These diseases have been the No. 1 killer of American women for more than 40 years, with minority women especially vulnerable.

Yet there are too many people -- including health care professionals, researchers, policy-makers and women -- who still mistakenly consider cardiovascular disease to be a man's disease.

Only 8 percent of primary care physicians recognized that heart disease kills more women each year than men, according to a recent American Heart Association (AHA) survey. Unfortunately this information gap results in women receiving less aggressive and sophisticated diagnostic screening and treatments, like stents and angioplasties, which could prevent a deadly heart attack or stroke.

Among women, only 55 percent recognize that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for their sex. Many more are uninformed about the symptoms of cardiovascular disease, which can be more subtle than those exhibited by men. And many don't realize that such controllable conditions like smoking, physical inactivity or high blood pressure can put them at increased risk for heart attack or stroke.

This knowledge gap disproportionately impacts minority women. Only 38 percent of African-American women recognize that heart disease is their biggest health threat, even though nearly half of all African-American women (49 percent) have some form of cardiovascular disease (compared to 35 percent of white women).Much the same is true for Hispanic women. Prevention starts with Knowledge. Help spread the word!

Alberto Colombi MD MPH
Corporate Medical Director