On 8 March 2023, on International Women’s Day, the European Heart Network (EHN) affirmed its commitment to advocating for gender equity in cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevention, diagnosis, patient care, and research. Eight members of the European Parliament collaborated with EHN in spreading awareness on the key areas of gender equity in cardiovascular health, including Frances Fitzgerald (EPP, Ireland), Sirpa Pietikäinen (EPP, Finland), Stelios Kympouropoulos (EPP, Greece), Patrizia Toia (S&D, Italy), István Ujhelyi (S&D, Hungary), Juozas Olekas (Renew, Lithuania) and MEP Heart Group Co-Chairs Maria da Graça Carvalho (EPP, Portugal) and Brando Benifei (S&D, Italy).
More women are dying from CVD in the European Union (EU) than men
CVD is still the main natural cause of death for both women and men in the EU, yet women present a higher mortality rate than men. According to the 2019 Global Burden of Disease, an estimated 1,096,308 women died from CVD in the EU, compared to 908,128 men dying from CVD in the same year. Despite this, both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Institute for Gender Inequality (EIGE) note that CVDs are perceived as men’s diseases. Not only is CVD affected by gender inequity, but also by inequality between countries: there are more women dying from CVD in Eastern European countries (such as Hungary, Romania, and Czechia) than in Western European countries (such as Austria, the Netherlands, and Portugal).
Women are significantly underrepresented in CVD clinical trials, thereforemost guideline-directed therapies are based on data collected predominantly from male patients. More clinical trials enrolling only female patients, or a significant proportion of women, are needed to allow prespecified gender analyses. Data reporting from clinical trials must include results divided by gender to support better targeted care for women.
Women experience different CVD symptoms than men. For example, when experiencing acute coronary syndrome, women present less often with chest pain than men and instead experience more concomitant vaso-vegetative symptoms (i.e. abdominal pain, dyspnoea, nausea and fatigue). Heart failure (HF) is also often misdiagnosed in women, as frequently reported HF symptoms of tiredness and fatigue are wrongly attributed to psychosocial-related factors. The awareness of CVD risk in women among healthcare providers is relat ively low and women’s manifested CVD symptoms are often misdiagnosed. Greater awareness among women and healthcare professionals about women’s symptoms and evaluation of CVDs is needed.
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