Something to Think About

30Dec09

I recall explaining to a friend that feminism is an important distinction from egalitarianism because of certain issues that will naturally fall to the lot of feminists to address.  I cited abortion and birth control rights among these, but somehow failed to mention heart disease.  This is because I have been of the (mistaken) view that there was nothing that feminism needed to address in that realm.

Apparently I was wrong.

Kate Harding says in the article:

If I hadn’t already been a feminist, my awakening would have come in September 2000, when my mother lay dying in a hospital. She’d gone in with a massive heart attack, and tests revealed she’d had several smaller ones previously — something none of us, including Mom, had known about. I asked the doctor how that was possible, and he gave me two answers. First, she had Type 2 diabetes, and diabetic neuropathy can interfere with people’s ability to recognize heart attack symptoms. Second, women’s heart attack symptoms can be different from men’s — we might feel pain in the back, jaw or stomach instead of the chest, for instance, and the radiating pain down the left arm we all hear about doesn’t show up as often in women. Why, I asked the doctor, had I never heard that before, at 25 years old? “Well,” he said, “until about 20 years ago, they just didn’t test much on women. The assumption was that it would be the same for them as for men.”

The fact that I wasn’t even aware that symptoms of a heart attack are often different in women is frankly frightening.

That symptoms in women were assumed to be the same as in men until quite recently is bad.  Since it has been discovered that they are different, that there has been very little by way of spreading this knowledge is downright horrifying.

I’ll admit that I haven’t done much thinking by way of heart disease.  I’m pretty young, and, though there was a time freshman year of college when I smoked my way through too many cigarettes ’round exam time, those days are gone, and I generally live a lifestyle that is low-risk when it comes to heart problems.  So I’ve made the (not incorrect) assumption that I’ve currently no worries about heart disease (my risk will go up when I hit 35, and even more ten years after I hit menopause), and haven’t bothered to do the research on it, and perhaps that’s why I’m woefully ignorant on the symptoms in women.

But I somehow doubt it.  Completely ignoring the implications in the fact that I personally am well-versed in the symptoms of a heart attack in the male population, but not in the female, statistics from a study performed in Canada show that many (higher-risk) women are equally ignorant.

A new survey of 2,000 Canadian women age 40 and older shows many are dangerously unaware of their risks for cardiovascular disease, the leading killer of women in Canada.

The survey shows women spend more time thinking about their weight than they do their heart. Nor do they know that symptoms of a heart attack in women often are not the same as in men.

This goes deeper than women being uninformed, however.  Another study reports that:

In the group with cardiovascular disease:

  • While women were 44 percent more likely than men to have high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, they were 15 percent less likely to receive lipid-lowering medications.

Look, feminism is about wanting to be treated as real, live, equal human beings.  This isn’t just relevant when we’re looking for jobs, or trying to gain respect from an acquaintance or family member, or walking down the street hoping not to be hassled.  Sexism is influencing the way we are given medical treatment.

Equality in our social interactions is extremely important.  Equality in our medical treatment is absolutely vital.   Doctors are in positions of authority.  If a woman isn’t given medication for her high LDL cholesterol, she probably isn’t going to seek it out, because she probably doesn’t know she even needs it.  It is the responsibility of doctors to look past the fact that heart disease is considered (incorrectly) to be mostly a problem for men, and give their female patients the treatment they need.  It is ridiculous that this isn’t happening.

It really shouldn’t be a surprise that cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women (this is true not just in Canada), considering the fact that a shocking number aren’t getting the treatment they need for it.

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One Response to “Something to Think About”

  1. I stumbled upon your blog thru aol. I really like the contents which are well written and informative. I have bookmarked your site and will certainly visit again. Keep up the good work.


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