Industry recognizes women’s health issues, patient awareness lacking

In 1991 the Department of Health and Human Services established the Office of Women’s Health because there was a general sense that women’s health needs were underserved. Efforts ensued to redress inequalities in research, services and education.

Today the OWH’s work continues, but one thing is certain: Women’s issues, the agency deems, have become “firmly rooted in the national health landscape.”

Oscar-winning actress Sally Field now speaks out on osteoporosis, a bone disease affecting post-menopausal women. Such leading cosmetics firms as Avon, Revlon and Estee Lauder regularly sponsor breast cancer funding events. Research breakthroughs specific to women’s health are coming more regularly, such as Merck’s Gardasil, a vaccine against cervical cancer that won Food and Drug Administration approval last year. Lifestyle products are becoming more available as well, such as Wyeth’s Lybrel, a birth control pill that also eliminates a woman’s menstrual cycle.

While the above health issues are all immensely important, heart disease remains the single most harmful disease for women. It is the leading cause of death.

According to the OWH’s most recent data, 356,000 women die from heart disease annually. Yet, women still lack awareness of its impact to their gender. Only 13 percent of U.S. women believed that heart disease and stroke were serious health threats to women, according to a recent American Heart Association study. Stroke is the third-leading cause of death among women.

Nearly 39 percent of all female deaths in the United States are due to cardiovascular disease—that includes heart disease and stroke. Heart attacks are more fatal to women than to men. Within one year after suffering a heart attack, 38 percent of women die, compared with 25 percent of men, according to the AHA.

Other misunderstandings continue. Cancer ranks as the second-leading cause of death among women, with lung cancer the most fatal, followed by breast cancer. Colorectal cancer is third.

In terms of general health: government statistics indicate that 13 percent of adult American women are in fair or poor overall health. Data also show that 18.5 percent currently smoke, 62 percent are overweight and 31.5 percent suffer from hypertension.

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