Heart disease still killing millions of women

Angioplasty, bypass surgery and cholesterol-lowering medications are among the many interventions that have brought a sharp decrease in heart disease deaths in recent years. But, as Dr. Sharon Hayes of the Mayo Clinic points out, there is one big problem.

“The death rates in women have not declined as much as they have in men,” she says.

The latest statistics show a shocking difference.

About 20 years ago, men and women died from heart disease at the same rate. Since then, the death rate for men has dropped dramatically. But for women the news is not so good.

Experts say there are many reasons for the trend. But a big one is that women and their doctors often ignore the symptoms of heart disease. They often assume there must be some other problem.

Janice Anderson's case is sadly typical. For two years she felt pressure and tightness in her chest, so she repeatedly went to the doctor.

“I was told I had bronchitis. And I believed him,” Anderson says. “I thought he oughta know.”

She, in fact, was having heart attacks and now she has permanent heart damage.

“I think if I had been a man,” Anderson says, “and walked in with those symptoms, something would have been done.”

Dr. Hayes and others say a major effort is needed to address the gender disparity. For one thing, most studies of heart drugs and devices have been done on men only.

“There is a real awareness that we need to be studying women and including them in clinical trials and reporting their data,” Hayes says. “We're not doing it all yet.”

But the biggest need, she says, is to get over the idea that heart disease is mostly a man's problem, when in fact is by far the biggest killer of women.