What do we know about women and heart disease? An easier question to answer might be: What do we not know? Because the answer is a lot.
We know much more about men and heart disease because most medical studies have been done with men rather than women. When it comes to some conditions such as heart disease, what works for men does not always work for women. The General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, published a booklet in 1990 that showed a bias against women in medical studies. The GAO states that showing that healthy men could reduce their risk of heart attacks by taking an aspirin every other day simply don’t apply to women because women were not included in the studies. Hundreds of studies on mice, rats, rabbits and men have been conducted, but only a fraction of that amount have focused on women.
There has been discrimination against women in the area of medical research until very recently. In fact, in 1993, three years after an investigation in the House of Representatives, Congress passed the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Revitalization act. This act of Congress made it mandatory to include women in their clinical research trials.
In another 10 or 20 years, we should know more about women and AIDS, arthritis, irritable bowel, and heart disease. The wheels of change more very slowly. Yet many of us don’t have the time to sit around and wait for more definitive answers. We need to understand some of the reasons so many women die annually from heart disease, so we don’t join their numbers and become another statistic. And we need to begin today to change our lives with the information that’s available now.
Fortunately, as limited as medical research is in the area of women and heart disease, there’s enough out there for us to change our cardiovascular picture and improve the quality and length of our lives.
Note: Esther Diaz is a health education teacher who lives in suburban Atlanta. She is our contributor.