Many current heart health approaches are adapted from practices based on male physiology. Women are not “small men.” While their hearts are smaller and their blood vessels narrower than men’s,1 other important differences impact women’s heart health and management.
Acknowledging and addressing these crucial differences is a major step forward to better health and equity.
The health of non-White people and especially non-White women has been damaged by systemic, long-term inequities in care access, affordability, and appropriateness. Ongoing institutional racism and differential participation in research have produced additional enduring harm.6
These disparities disproportionately impact Black women.
Confronting this reality is imperative in the quest for equitable and inclusive workplaces because Black women have the highest labor participation rate among women. 7
Women are up to twice as likely to die from complications of a heart attack than men.11 They’re also more likely to have a second heart attack or a stroke.12
One reason: a woman’s first cardiac “event” usually happens later in life when other conditions and comorbidities like diabetes or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) are more likely to co-exist.13
Another factor: time to treatment. Women wait to seek care 37 minutes longer than men.14 In a situation where seconds count, delaying care is dangerous.
Women may be slow to get help because they don’t know their symptoms are heart-related. One study found that over half of women having a heart attack assumed that their symptoms are not heart-related, with 21% of those women instead attributing their symptoms to stress or anxiety. The same study also found that providers also often misdiagnose heart attacks in women, with 53% of women reporting that their provider did not think their heart attack symptoms were heart-related.15
Even when they do seek care, women encounter additional barriers to health, including:
70% of heart disease cases and deaths are caused by modifiable risk factors20
A woman’s heart health is influenced by several factors that can change with behavior modification and medication. Pinpointing hypertension is particularly vital since 44% of adult women have high blood pressure,21 and Black women have about 40% higher rates than white women.22
Personalized interventions and ongoing support can help women understand and address the top and most prevalent risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure and high cholesterol.23