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February 2001


by Bunella

In this column, I hope to focus on issues, both serious and light-hearted that concern women and people who love and care about women.

As females, we hear all the time about making sure we get our gynecological check ups and breast exams, but rarely are we told about the health issues connected with women and hearts. What follows is something we really don't want to think about, but please take the time to read through and take it seriously.

  • Cardiovascular disease (diseases which affect the heart and the blood vessels) kills more than half a million women each year.

  • Heart attacks kill about 235,000 women each year, more than five times the number killed by breast cancer.

  • Although heart disease increases as we age, young women are not immune. An estimated 74,000 women between the ages of 45 and 64 will suffer heart attacks this year. Also,the heart attacks that younger women suffer are more likely to be fatal than those suffered by older women.

If these facts surprised you, you're not alone; they surprised me too. Having just quit smoking 2 months ago, I was doing research to try to find out how much healthier I could be and what I could do when I came upon those statistics. In fact, heart disease has been the number 1 killer of women going back as far as 1908.

More recently, a 1999 study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported on hidden bias in how doctors make clinical decisions. Primary-care physicians who viewed videotapes of actors relaying symptoms characteristic of heart disease diagnosed females with the condition only 60 percent as often as men. This gender bias means that women's hearts are less likely to be correctly diagnosed or properly treated. As a result, we undergo far fewer diagnostic tests or surgical treatments for heart disease.

This skewed emphasis also does women a disservice because we miss the
opportunity to make changes in our lifestyle, which protect not only our hearts, but the rest of our health as well. For instance, many women continue to smoke, unaware of the damage they are doing to their bodies. Smoking takes a huge toll on women, in terms of dramatically increasing both heart disease and lung cancer risk. But, as women focus on breast cancer, this message does not get through.

Should we continue doing breast self-exams? Of course. Should we continue to get mammograms? Yes, again. And should money be allocated for research into breast cancer? Absolutely. But it's time to keep up the pressure for more research, medical training and public education into all diseases that afflict women, including, of course, heart disease.


Bunella, also known as Bunz, is a not-so-recent graduate of the School of Hard Knocks. She has been married 3 times and feels this qualifies her to write on many women's issues. She has done work previously for the HOT Press under different pseudonyms and will probably continue to do so, since no one can shut her up. If you'd like certain topics addressed, feel free to email her at or suffer the stuff she wishes to address.