Women’s advocates wrong about why more women die of heart disease than men

Even at very old ages, men die of heart disease at a higher rate than women. At age 85 and above, although more females than males succumbed to the disease in 2003, 5,621 males died per 100,000 population vs. 5,126 females. (Men’s higher death rate from heart disease and other diseases is often regarded not as a problem for men but as a problem for women, as in “a man shortage” or “female impoverishment.”)

The American Heart Association designated February 1 as “National Wear Red Day,” a day when Americans nationwide are asked to wear red to show their support for women’s heart-disease awareness. After reading this Male Matters commentary, do you agree we should show support only for women’s heart-disease awareness?

     Heart disease takes more female lives than male. The reason, insist women’s health advocates, is that the medical profession pays less attention to how the disease affects women.

   “Until recently,” says Melody Brumble of the Shreveport Times, “women were ignored in heart disease prevention studies and clinical trials.” 

   CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen writes, “Heart disease [is] often misdiagnosed in women.” Says Women’s Enews, “Doctors are overlooking and undertreating heart disease in women….”

   But are neglect and undertreatment — which the advocates imply are deliberate, perhaps as if they believe some male doctors and researchers are misogynists who want women to die? — of women’s heart disease really to blame for females’ higher fatalities?

   Compare how many U.S. men and women at different ages, all races, per 100,000 population, fell to the disease in 2003:

 Ages                  Females                  Males

25-34                       5.7                        10.5

35-44                    18.6                        42.8

45-54                    50.2                      136.2

55-64                  141.9                       331.7

65-74                  417.5                      785.3

75-84                1,331.1                  2,030.3

85 +                 5,126.7                   5,621.5

Compiled from National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 55, No. 10, March 15, 2007 (pdf) (Rates begin on p. 20 of the pdf.)

“Medical myths die hard, and one of the biggest is that heart disease is a problem mostly for men. That’s not even close to being true: according to the American Heart Association (AHA), more women than men die from heart disease in the U.S., and 1 in 3 women is living with it today.” –Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, calling a truth a myth, then creating his own myth, even though in 2003, he said this: “Virtually all stress-related diseases — from hypertension to heart disease — are more common in men.” As of January 2008, he was Pres. Obama’s pick for the new surgeon general. Spreading the health around is apparently not on the President’s agenda. 

   Up to age 65, over twice as many men die of heart disease — which is even more striking given that from about age 35 females outnumber males. Only at age 65 do as many women begin to die of the disease. And though not shown in the above table, only at about age 75 do more women than men begin dying of heart disease. But by then, the average man has been dead for two years! 

“At age 65, for every 100 American women, there are only 77 men. At age 85, the disparity is even greater, with women outnumbering men by 2.6 to 1. [For every 100 men, 260 women!] And the longevity gap persists even into very old age, long after hormones have passed their peak; among centenarians, there are four females for every male.” -Harvard.edu

   Yet even at age 75 and older, as the table below indicates, males die of heart disease at a higher rate. Above age 84, although in 1998 over twice as many females succumbed to the disease, 6,354 males died per 100,000 vs. 5,898 females. Obviously, if men as a group lived as long as women, more men than women would die of heart disease at all ages.

“Even as we are increasingly hearing that women die of heart disease as often as men, we are not hearing that when most women die of heart disease, men have been long dead.” —Warren Farrell  

   Women’s advocates have often regarded men’s generally shorter life span as a problem not for men but for women, as in the “man shortage” and elderly women’s poverty. Now, perversely, because of men’s earlier demise, they are able to use statistics misleadingly to suggest that heart disease hits women harder and that women with the disease are undertreated. For example, the Office of Research on Women’s Health informs (there is as yet no Office of Health Research for men, the shorter-living, less-healthy sex): “About 44 percent of women who have heart attacks die within one year, whereas only about 27 percent of men die within one year.” That’s because far more women than men (about six million more) live to the older ages when both sexes are most at risk of the disease, and when women are frailer, possibly have co-existing, old-age complications that preclude rigorous therapy, and are less likely to survive an attack.

If many women are less aware of heart disease than they need to be, perhaps that’s because almost every day for years women’s advocates and the media kept women focused on — and angry about — the breast-cancer “epidemic.” But which sex do you really think needs to be made more aware of heart disease (or any disease, for that matter), when you consider this: Women visit the doctor nearly twice as often as men for preventive care, according to a 2001 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The very definition of preventive care is raising awareness of one’s health threats and risks. (See also the federal government’s Office On Women’s Health, which says, “…[W]omen are more likely to obtain preventive services, with almost one in five women’s visits for prevention purposes.”) A good indication that men need to be made more aware of their health comes from the government’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. It is trying to get men more interested in their healthWhy don’t the mainstream media report this to make men more aware? The answer: Because no one protests the sexism.  

“In 2008, heart disease mortality was 54% higher in males than in females.” -U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, Chart 3-13, p. 30

   The complaint that heart disease hits women harder due to neglect has been heeded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). The institute responded in particular to the complaint that most clinical trials of heart disease treatment and prevention were all-male. (It makes sense to study the group most vulnerable to a disease; e.g., most osteoporosis studies are of women. Moreover, just as new drugs and procedures are tested in animals before humans, they are often tested in men before women.) Thus, in 1998, the NHLBI made sure that 68 percent of its heart-disease study subjects were women. Moreover, the institute now offers eight sex-specific heart-disease publications for women — and none for men.

| “Studies done at John Moores University in Liverpool, England, showed there are some things to overcome if you are a male if you want to live as long as the women. They found that 70-year-old men had the hearts of 70-year-olds but their female peers had the hearts of 20-year-olds.” -Mercola.com |

Previously, when the NHLBI studied mostly the more-at-risk group — men — the studies were called sexist because, women’s advocates claimed, the studies ignored how heart disease affects women differently. Studying the different ways heart disease may affect different groups is always worthwhile. But now that the NHLBI studies mostly the less-at-risk group — women — women’s advocates ignore both the sexism and the very different way heart disease affects men: it kills them at a much higher rate at every age.

   Suppose men lived longer than women. Suppose they developed heart disease 10 years later than women, died of the disease at a lower rate at every age, and men’s health advocates nevertheless portrayed men as having a higher risk of the disease. Suppose they blamed the male’s “higher risk” on sexism and on the undertreatment of men with heart disease. Finally, suppose the NHLBI then increased awareness of men’s heart disease, began studying mostly men, issued publications only for men — all the while ignoring women’s greater risk. What would happen? A lot of women’s advocates would faint from disbelief — if not die of a heart attack!

“Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women do, and they have attacks earlier in life. Even after menopause, when women’s death rate from heart disease increases, it’s not as great as men’s.” —American Heart Association |

“New York men are significantly more likely than women to die before the age of 65. The reasons are many, but two stand out. One is heart disease. In the 35-to-64 age bracket, both sexes have similar rates of cancer deaths. But men in that group are twice as likely as women to die from heart trouble.” -New York Times

   Women, like men, must be made aware of heart disease. But what should be remembered is this: Despite all the sensationalism about the “neglect” and the “undertreatment” of women with heart disease, the disease still poses a far bigger threat to men. If the sensationalism results in funds being diverted from research of men’s heart disease into women’s, the disease will surely kill even more men — more of our fathers, brothers, uncles, and sons. That would be a truly sad sexism.

______

NOTES:

See “Facts on Heart Disease in Men” at the Centers For Disease Control, one of the facts being “Between 70% and 89% of sudden cardiac events occur in men.”

CNN”s Elizabeth Cohen, who wrote the above-cited report “Heart disease often misdiagnosed in women,” conveniently ignores the fact that the disease is very likely more often misdiagnosed in men. She ought to read this about CBS’s Ed Bradley.

Women’s health advocates also claim women with lung cancer are undertreated. For the truth, first see the gender statistics on lung cancer here, then reread the above commentary, inserting the lung cancer statistics and substituting “lung cancer” for “heart disease.” )

See Marianne J. Legato’s 2009 book, Why Men Die First“Men are more likely to experience the first ravages of coronary heart disease in their mid-30s, 15 or 20 years before women. And twice as many men die of the disease as do women.”

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