Invest more in research and access to health care for women
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Every month is American Heart Month at WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease. It’s what we do every day—raise awareness about heart disease in women, provide social and emotional support to women living with heart disease, and advocate for policies that meet the needs of the 48 million American women living with or at risk of heart disease. In February, American Heart Month, we are thrilled to have our nation join us in raising awareness about the No. 1 killer of women: heart disease.

With millions of women affected and minority women at even greater risk, we know that we have a long way to go in raising awareness and educating women about their risk factors, symptoms, and lifestyle changes necessary to leading a heart healthy life. In fact, only 55 percent of women actually know that heart disease is their number one killer.

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WomenHeart’s work centers on the importance of accessibility and affordability for women with heart disease. We urge Congress to increase support for research and access to high quality, affordable health care for all women. Research and access to care are critically important in the fight against heart disease. According to a recent Access Now survey WomenHeart commissioned, more than 20 percent of women in the survey said that they face barriers that impede their access to treatment. For most women, cost and expenses are the leading barriers to access. Furthermore, one in four of our female survey respondents indicated that they had skipped or delayed treatment or medication to lower their out-of-pocket expenses. This is unacceptable, and we must continue to fight so that no woman has to choose between putting food on the table or getting the medical treatment she needs.

It is critical that more women enroll in clinical trials so that heart disease in women can be better understood and treated.  The interesting fact is that the more women are studied, the more the science shows how different heart disease in women can be and is. It’s not just that signs and symptoms can be different, the disease itself has different manifestations. More women in clinical trials would result in more appropriate prevention and early detection, more accurate diagnosis, and more effective treatment for all women with heart disease. Research on women with heart disease must be adequately funded to generate this critically important data.

There is insufficient research into the distinct sex differences that exist between men and women with cardiovascular disease (CVD). In the absence of sex-specific data, it is difficult to draw accurate conclusions about benefits or risks to women for a particular drug or device.

Only one-third of cardiovascular clinical trials report sex-specific results. And some new drugs in development still only have 30 percent of women in their clinical trials. This has a negative impact on all women because without female participation in clinical trials, it’s impossible for us to know how treatment strategies work for women. Research needs to reflect the wide range of biological differences between women and men and how they affect treatment. And, not just women broadly, but specifically African American women, Native American women, Hispanic women and Asian women.

However, research without access to care won’t result in better outcomes for women. Access to primary care offers women the opportunity to develop a relationship with a team to guide their decisions throughout their care journey. Prompt referrals to specialty care and cardiac rehabilitation, with streamlined referrals to sub-specialty care as needed, will ensure that providers aren’t delaying needed care. Comprehensive coverage for cardiac testing, treatments, and devices allows women to focus on their treatment and not their bank accounts.

With greater investment, research and access to care will help women with heart disease live longer, healthier lives. Visit www.womenheart.org to learn more about heart disease and women.

Mary McGowan is Chief Executive Officer at WomenHeart: the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease.