May 26, 2013

Our View: Falling short on ensuring women's heart health

Cardiac disease is widespread and lethal, and U.S. and state officials must do more to halt it.

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Even many doctors don’t realize that heart disease kills more women than men each year.


They're among the millions of women nationwide -- and thousands in Maine -- who can't afford to visit a doctor because they have no insurance.

Lifestyle factors, including whether one smokes and what one weighs, contribute a lot to heart disease risk. More than 17 percent of Maine women are smokers, and more than 56 percent are obese or overweight. But many of them can't afford to take the steps that would lower their chances of developing cardiac ailments, like quitting smoking and eating more-healthy food.

Why? The prescription drugs found to be the most effective treatment for people who want to stop smoking are not cheap if you don't have insurance. Food that is better for you, like fruit and vegetables, is more expensive than food that is bad for you.

Poverty is higher among women than among men, so cuts in programs that benefit the poor have a disproportionate impact on women. When the state government eliminates funding for Medicaid's smoking-cessation benefit -- and the federal government reduces spending on food stamps -- they place more Maine women at risk of developing cardiovascular disorders.

Then, instead of paying for prevention efforts, we all wind up footing the bill for more-costly emergency care after a woman has a heart attack.

Improving women's heart health must be a team effort. Researchers must develop effective tests and treatments. Physicians have to be aware of women's risk of heart disease, inquire about the symptoms during yearly exams and aggressively diagnose and treat the symptoms they see. Finally, government needs to support research into heart disease at the federal level and better fund preventive efforts at the state level. It won't be easy or cheap, but the stakes are too high for us to delay immediate action.


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