Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S. and globally. Today is the first day of February, also known to some as National Heart Month. Last week, the American Heart Association (AHA) released the first-ever statement exclusive to women suggesting that women’s heart attacks are different than men’s. This could not have come at a more appropriate time, not only because it is Heart Month, but also because precision medicine research continues to take center stage, and gender is one important way that patients may react differently to medical events.
Dr. Laxmi Mehta, a cardiologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and chair of the AHA statement writing group, explained that women’s heart attacks not only have different causes and symptoms than men’s, but also can be deadlier due to a tendency to ignore or not recognize symptoms. While men and women both experience chest pain, women are more likely to have atypical symptoms, such as shortness of breath and nausea, which may not trigger the idea of a heart attack. It goes without saying that the longer women delay treatment, the more likely it is for those symptoms become fatal. Cardiac-related death rates in women currently outpace those of men.
So what can be done to better understand treatment and prevention needs for women?
One suggestion the AHA team made, of which we are in strong support, is the need to aggregate relevant data into a central repository. “We hope having one place for medical professionals to access the current data available on heart attacks in women encourages more work to implement change and close the knowledge gaps that remain,” said Mehta. iSpecimen sees, through our own centrally-stored data mined from our network of suppliers, how important it is to gain critical mass to identify what may be subtle trends.
Another endeavor they cited is the need for more gender-specific research. According to Mehta, the first step in improving outcomes for women is to pay attention to female characteristics and circumstances. To encourage more women to participate in cardiovascular clinical trials, raising awareness will be critical. Community and social efforts, such as Go Red for Women, have proven to be successful in the female population.
In addition to clinical trials, we think biospecimen research will also continue to be important. Precision medicine research often looks for specific biomarkers to identify why certain people experience disease differently. With an adequate number of biospecimens from females with a history of heart disease, such research can be conducted across samples such as blood, urine, and saliva, to try to identify potential indicators that may help us pinpoint important differences between men and women.
For more information about heart month and the AHA’s statement please view the following resources:
CDC: Heart Month
Heart attack causes and symptoms are different in women