Women, heart health and how digital healthcare could help

What do you think of when you hear ‘heart and circulatory disease’? In the mission to beat heart break forever, one stereotype we’re trying to tackle is that heart and circulatory diseases are only really a problem for men. This just simply isn’t true: Women are severely affected by these conditions too, and our research proves this.

Identifying the shortfalls

From research we part-funded, Professor Chris Gale at University of Leeds revealed that more than 8,200 women in England and Wales could have survived their heart attack had they simply been given the same quality of treatment as men. And to add to this, MBRRACE-UK, who provide robust information to support the delivery of maternal, newborn and infant health services, published a report which found that heart disease remains the leading cause of women in the UK dying during pregnancy, or up to 6 weeks after giving birth. It’s clear that women’s health, especially when it comes to the heart and circulatory system, is being overlooked at times. So it’s important that, now we know this is a problem, improvements are made.

You may have also seen in the news recently, research we supported showing that women who have high blood pressure during pregnancy are at a higher risk of heart attacks and stroke in later life. What’s worrying is that high blood pressure in pregnant women can be passed off as nothing too serious. In June, at the annual British Cardiovascular Society (BCS) conference, non-BHF funded cardiologist Dr Dawn Adamson spoke about how many of the symptoms of heart disease — shortness of breath, tiredness and swollen ankles — look similar to those that are seen during pregnancy and shortly after birth. She highlighted the need for doctors to be alert to suspicious symptoms in pregnant women. Dr Adamson further stressed that the heart health of all women with heart disease, particularly those who are of childbearing age, should be tracked to ensure their risk of developing cardiovascular complications is as small as possible.

Our bit towards addressing the gender gap

All of these pieces of research clearly call for more action to be taken in order to balance out the gap in health care between men and women. Let’s take heart attacks as an example. One of the tests doctors use to try to diagnose a heart attack is to measure the amount of a molecule called troponin in the blood — which is released from heart muscle when it is damaged.

Tests to detect troponin have got increasingly more sensitive — that is they’re able to pick up tiny amounts of troponin in the blood. Research we funded at the University of Edinburgh, led by Professor Nick Mills, showed that by using a ‘high-sensitivity’ troponin test, diagnosis rates of heart attacks in women could be doubled as the level of troponin released into the blood is much lower in women compared to men.

The future of digital health for women

Also at BCS, Hudda Idrees, founder and CEO of DOT Health, further pushed the message that women’s health can be an afterthought.

In Hudda’s talk, she pointed out:

“If you take the consumer market as an example, when Apple came out with their first health kit they didn’t include a period tracker — a significant aspect of women’s health, and as a result may have missed out on a possible 50 per cent of their audience”.

Hudda also spoke about how Viagra, a drug initially developed as a treatment for high blood pressure and chest pain, was found to treat erectile dysfunction and may also offer relief from period pain for women. However, the pharmaceutical industry focused on the benefits for men and the health of women was overlooked.

We need to recognise the gaps in health care equality between the sexes, and to find ways we can help women who are often ignored. Hudda went on to suggest that the health care sector could in fact “learn a few tricks” from the commercial sector. Many companies put a huge focus on marketing to sell products to the ‘mum’ — as it’s women who make 80% of the household purchasing decisions. She explained that this major focus on women as the ‘end users’ is simply not reflected in the health care system, and advances in digital health could reposition women in the health care agenda.

Hudda explained that when people have access to data, they make better, more informed decisions. Digital health care could create a movement towards a world where women feel more empowered to take control of their health care, healthcare professionals can ask to access their data and give them treatment. It could mean more accurate diagnoses, faster referrals to care providers, providing the best treatments, and ultimately save lives.

Watch this digital space.

If you liked this blog post, you can follow the BHF publication on Medium and check out more about BHF-funded research here:

Women, heart health and how digital healthcare could help was originally published in British Heart Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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