Today the peer-reviewed journal Women's Health Issues (WHI) released a new Special Collection on Women's Heart Health, with a focus on improving healthcare services to women at risk for cardiovascular disease. The special collection also highlights recent studies addressing social determinants of health and physical activity in women of different backgrounds.
"Many people still don't realize that heart disease is the number one killer of women," said Chloe Bird, editor-in-chief of Women's Health Issues and a senior sociologist at RAND. "Women should be getting treated for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other conditions that pose risks to their long-term cardiovascular health - but research is finding that education and healthcare still need to improve so women get the necessary preventive care."
Women's Health Issues is the official journal of the Jacobs Institute of Women's Health, which is based at Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. This Special Collection includes 20 articles published between mid-2011 and early 2015.
Several of the studies in the collection demonstrate the need to improve healthcare services to assure that both women and men receive appropriate care to control risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Two of the studies in the special collection analyzed data on veterans' health and found higher LDL cholesterol levels among women veterans than their male counterparts. A third,found a greater proportion of women veterans with elevated LDL cholesterol levels, and concluded that individual patient-level factors could only explain one-third of the difference.
Researchers are working to identify reasons why women's cholesterol might be more poorly controlled than men's. A study involving veterans found that providers were less likely to order or adjust cholesterol medications for women veterans than for male veterans, while women were more likely than men to be unwilling to take such medications. And a study in the general population involving patients from seven outpatient clinics found that women and men received comparable care for diabetes and lipid management. However, more of the women reported that due to side effects or costs, they were not taking the lipid-lowering medications they were prescribed.
Such findings fit with a previous report that concluded that gaps persist in our understanding of how cardiovascular disease affects women. That report noted that many questions still remain about gender differences in this arena, including how best to treat women with heart disease. The report authors, including Jacobs Institute of Women's Health Executive Director Susan Wood as well as colleagues at the Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women's Health & Gender Biology and the Kaiser Family Foundation, called for researchers to push forward with investigations of women and heart disease. Studies in this collection help address that need, Wood says.
At the same time, additional education on what we do know about treating women with heart disease may be necessary to assure that healthcare providers are fully equipped to help female patients reduce their risk--and two studies in the collection address this. One study involved focus groups with obstetrician/gynecologist (OBGYN) residents and practicing physicians, and concluded, "Additional training, development of referral networks, and access to local and practice specific data are needed to support an increased role for the OBGYN in the prevention of cardiovascular disease in women." A second report, one that evaluated the "Heart Truth" education campaign for healthcare providers, found that doctors and other health professionals who attended Heart Truth educational lectures improved their knowledge on cardiovascular disease prevention in women.
"There is a growing understanding of the need to address heart disease in women," said Bird. "As the studies in this collection show, though, we still need more research and education to assure that healthcare providers can provide the best care to both men and women, and for women to be able to work together with their healthcare teams to keep their hearts healthy."
The Women's Health Issues Special Collection on Women's Heart Health is available online, and all articles can be accessed for free during February 2015. A previous special collection addressed Women Veterans' Health.
George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health