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Special Report Highlights Urgent Need to Increase Heart Disease Awareness Efforts in Young Women

American Heart Association   (AHA)

September 21, 2020

Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death among women annually, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined[1]. The American Heart Association, the world’s leading nonprofit organization focused on heart and brain health for all, first brought this critical issue to light through its signature women’s initiative Go Red for Women® in 2004.

Considerable progress has been made by the Association to increase awareness in 17 years, reaching tens of millions of women and health care professionals with lifesaving resources. The movement’s work led to the first guidelines about women and cardiovascular disease for medical professionals in 2004. The movement has since expanded to meet the comprehensive health needs of women at every life stage and has placed a concerted effort in emerging areas of research that may influence a woman’s risk for heart disease and stroke including maternal health, mental well-being, COVID-19, equitable representation in clinical trials and the social determinants of health.

New findings from an American Heart Association special report published today analyzing 10-year trends in women’s awareness that cardiovascular disease is their greatest health threat, show critical gaps in awareness among younger women. The trend is prevalent in women ages 25-34 and Black and Hispanics of all ages.

The Association and Go Red for Women are calling for more to be done. There is an urgent need for public health organizations, government, health care professionals and community organizations to join forces and provide solutions to improve awareness, especially among young women and Black and Hispanic women. Unique to the 2019 study findings:

  • This was the first time the survey analyzed women ages 18-24 – a new, previously unstudied demographic.
  • Awareness among the original target audience (61%) for the Go Red for Women movement demonstrated continued awareness of cardiovascular disease as their leading cause of death.
  • Further, new research published in Circulation suggests the proportion of patients who experience a repeat heart attack after surviving their first has declined, with the greatest improvement in women.

Research, treatment and prevention methods for women living with cardiovascular disease and those at-risk, are evolving to meet the unique needs of women and the Association’s signatures women’s initiative is changing with it. The insights gleaned from the 2019 study are pivotal in shaping where the movement goes next and will benefit millions of women globally as Go Red for Women continues to accelerate community-based solutions that provide women with the tools and resources needed to manage their heart disease and stroke risk.

The movement remains steadfast and committed to meeting the comprehensive health needs of women. Based on the findings in this report, Go Red for Women recommends women should:

  • Recognize that heart disease is women’s leading cause of death
  • Ask their health care provider to explain what their individual risk is, and what they can do to lower their risk. Insist on answers
  • Know the symptoms of heart attack
  • Know that they should alert someone and call 9-1-1 at onset of symptoms

“The American Heart Association wants women to know cardiovascular disease remains their greatest health threat at any age. With these findings, women should feel empowered to join movements like Go Red for Women for evidence-based solutions and support,” says Mary Cushman, M.D., M.Sc., FAHA, professor of medicine at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont, and chair of the writing group for the Circulation statement.

Heart disease is not just a problem for “older” men. Heart disease and stroke can affect a woman at any age. Research shows heart attacks are on the rise in younger women[2].

Gender disparities in research, misconceptions and a lack of understanding of symptoms and risk factors unique to women have led women to be largely overlooked in the past when it comes to understanding how cardiovascular disease may impact them differently. There is considerably more understanding of the biological differences between men and women including disease progression and treatment response. While strides have been made to close gender and racial disparities in research and within the health care system, women continue to be underrepresented and overlooked in the U.S. and globally.

  • Women having heart attacks wait more than 30% longer than men from the moment they begin experiencing symptoms to the time they arrive at a hospital[3]. Once there, women experience a 20% longer wait time than men, from arrival to the moment they begin receiving care.
  • Women continue to account for less than half of all clinical trial participants globally with women of color only accounting for 3%.[4] Though strides have been made to close gender and racial disparities in research, women and minorities continue to be underrepresented globally.
  • Research shows that women are potentially more likely to survive a heart attack if their doctor is female, however, women occupy less than 25% of jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields[5]. By college graduation, men significantly outnumber women in nearly every science and engineering field, with further declines at the graduate level and into the professional workforce.

“The decline in awareness among women, especially in women in their 20s and 30s, and Black and Hispanic women of all ages, requires swift action to reverse. Lower socioeconomic status was strongly related to lower awareness, independent of other factors. More research is needed to determine all causes of low awareness; but ongoing societal challenges impacting our health care system including systemic racism and implicit gender or racial bias may be influencing women’s health,” says Cushman.

Powering women’s health continues to be Go Red for Women’s number one priority. The movement will continue to fund programs that power the mission and support the pillars of our work: leading breakthroughs in science and technology, changing systems and policies, and transforming health care and communities. Go Red for Women will continue to diversify efforts, amplify reach to younger generations and engage more women in creating solutions for women. Women can get involved in the movement in the following ways now:

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