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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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