Although heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in today’s world, they remain underrepresented in research efforts into this health problem. From 2010-2017, women accounted for less than 40% of the people enrolled in clinical trials focusing on cardiovascular health.
With one woman dying every 80 seconds globally from heart disease, one-third of women will experience this issue in their lifetime.
Lijing Yan evaluated a total of 740 completed cardiovascular clinical trials from Duke Kunshan University. A total of almost 863,000 adults between the ages of 25 to 89 were reviewed for this effort, with the average age of a participant being 61.
Only 38% of the participants were women.
Why Are Women Underrepresented in Heart Studies?
Researchers found that women make up 49% of the population across all studies. When looking at cardiovascular needs, women are 51% of the patients, but then less than 40% of the participants in clinical trials.
The 1993 National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act states that women and minorities must be included in government-funded clinical research. This law recognizes that gender bias in the United States exists in its research. What this legislative effort didn’t provide are real-world benchmarks to use for participation.
Doctors and scientists historically used thin, white men to represent most patients in medical research efforts. If you went through medical school in the 1980s, then the profiles you looked at involved men instead of women.
It is an approach that could be costing many women their lives.
Heart Disease Symptoms in Women Are Different
Every research paper on health care finds that women have different physical symptoms than men when suffering a cardiac event.
For women, having a heart attack can feel a lot like indigestion instead of having a sharp pain in the chest. That’s one of the reasons why women are less likely to survive when they experience a cardiovascular episode – especially when being treated by a male doctor.
Women have also had unforeseen complications to specific drugs developed for treating heart conditions because of their underrepresentation. 80% of the pharmaceuticals that the FDA withdrew its approval for from 1997 to 2000 had harmful side effects for women.
What is going to change this problem? Researchers must address the barriers that discourage women from participating in clinical trials. Providers must take their symptoms as seriously as they do for men. Since many women are also caregivers, extra time, and transportation assistance may be necessary. This is hardly the first time that research has come under fire. These things need to change if we are to make gains across all areas of health.