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Heart disease is the biggest single killer of women. Only by forgetting what we know about men, can we treat women successfully

I came across this fantastic TED talk by Dr Noel Bairey Merz on the single biggest health threat women face: heart disease.  Did you know that one out of two women will be impacted by cardio vascular disease in their lifetime and that since 1984 up to four times more women than men have died from heart disease in the USA and around the world?

Heart disease is a woman’s disease now – while the mortality line for men has been steadily decreasing because more has been understood about the symptoms men display and how to treat them.  These diagnostic and therapeutic strategies were developed in men, by men, and for men in the last 50 years, and it turns out they weren’t working for women.

The thing with heart disease is that it kills more women of all ages than breast cancer – due to the success of the breast cancer campaign, breast cancer mortality is down to 4%.  But with heart disease, usually the first time it strikes in men and women, there is a 50% chance of death.

In terms of treating women for heart disease, Dr Noel Bairey Merz talks about the Yentl Syndrome which was first hypothesised by a Dr Healy in the 1980s.  This theory was based on the role Barbara Streisand portrayed in Yentl, as a woman who wanted to be educated. To have access to education, she had to impersonate a man, in order to have the same rights as a man.

Healy realised that with heart disease, women and men were not being treated the same – because women were dying of heart disease two or three or four times as much as men.  She asked if it was a Yentl Syndrome – women were getting different access to treatments than men, because they looked different, and their symptoms looked different.

So as a result of this, for the past 15 years there has been a specific study on women and heart disease – and that’s identified that women have very different physiological symptoms and causes of heart attacks.  It’s only since these differences between men and women have been understood that advances have been made in the mortality rate of women.  It’s fascinating, check this out:

You know, it seems to me like this is a great example of how when you start looking at the subtle differences between men and women, you get a much, MUCH better outcome.

In the health context, it’s saving lives.  In the work context, it’s keeping women in the workplace, improving their productivity, delivering a better return on society’s investment in educating women, and delivering stronger results for business.

Hmmm… food for thought.

So what’s your take?


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1 month ago

Jen Dalitz

What are the lessons you’re teaching your kids? We took the opportunity of a holiday long weekend to visit my mum interstate as the timing of the trip coincided with my son’s favourite AFL team battling it out against my mum’s beloved team. Perhaps only those of you with the love for AFL will appreciate why we’d plan a long distance trip around a game of footy, but suffice to say it was a passion project! With every ounce of anticipation, the game was a tough, tight duel and could easily have gone either way. Yet when the final siren sounded, it wasn’t our team that was smiling. It sure is tough for a 10 year old boy to sit within a crowd 41,000+ people all cheering for the opposite side. It was tough for him to see the exhaustion and disappointment on the faces of the players he adores. And yet, it’s so important for him to learn that his team won’t always win. There’s so many lessons in that, but the one I chose to instil is that you won’t always back the team that wins but you’ll always back the team that you love. That’s why I asked him to wear his team colours home the next day, and show his support even when the chips are down. That’s the kind of commitment I want my son to learn and the kind of team player I want him to be. PS. #gotheGiants @GWSGiants #neversurrender ... See MoreSee Less

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3 months ago

Jen Dalitz

I haven’t been here in a while as the writing has been on hold. But I was reminded today that there are things in our life that light us up. That might take us out of our comfort zone but, once you sit with it, bring you both joy and a sense of “I can do this” achievement. These moments are such a gift. So I’m curious, what’s your special thing that lights you up?

Despite (or in spit of) my professional career, these moments for me normally involve my horses. I’ll never be an equestrian Olympian, but I take great pleasure in all the lessons my horses teach me. They remind me that it’s a team effort, we’re in it together, and that if I’m prepared to give a little bit more, they will too. That’s true whether we’re on the ground taking care of their feet, or grooming, or when I’m atop riding as one. Two hearts one team.
It’s hard to describe the adrenaline and joy they bring to my life. But I’d love to know, what lights you up??
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And so, maybe time does change some things. Or women do.

Skavlan Talkshow
– They let me go at 42 because they told me I was too old to represent women's dreams. #kvinnedagen

Watch our talk show interview with Isabella Rossellini here:
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