Doctors urge more gender-specific research on leading cause of death for women

·2 min read

A new report in The Lancet medical journal is sounding the alarm on what it calls a serious lack of gender-specific research and data when it comes to heart disease in women.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women globally.

The report made a number of recommendations, including more education on early detection for health care providers and patients, recruiting more women for cardiac studies and prioritizing research on heart disease in women. 

Doctors say strengthening the health care system's ability to detect these cardiovascular issues and building awareness of them could prevent numerous deaths and near-fatal incidents — like that of New York resident Yulia Nurikyan, who knew something was not right just weeks before her baby was due

"I felt nauseous, I felt dizzy and I felt like I was about to faint," Nurikyan told CBS News senior medical correspondent Dr. Tara Narula. 

Concerned for the baby, she rushed to a local hospital in Queens, New York.

She delivered her daughter, Olivia, there via emergency C-section.

Nurikyan was then taken to Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, where she underwent life-saving surgery — leaving her newborn baby behind.

Tests showed Nurikyan suffered an aortic dissection, a potentially deadly tear in the lining of the aorta that affects blood flow to the body. An aortic dissection can potentially rupture the entire artery.

"Obviously, if this happens, then the patient literally dies instantly," said Dr. Ismail El-Hamamsy, an aortic surgeon at Mount Sinai.

After six days of only seeing Olivia on FaceTime calls, Nurikyan finally got to hold her.

Asked how it felt to have her daughter in her arms, Nurikyan said "It felt like she belonged there."

Nurikyan said she likely would have ignored her symptoms had she not been pregnant. 

Heart disease symptoms in women can differ from those in men. Rather than chest pain, women sometimes report indigestion, back pain or shortness of breath — one of the reasons the authors of the new Lancet report say it is critical to have more women-specific studies. 

"Women are not small men," said Dr. Roxana Mehran, who led the Lancet report and is a professor of medicine, cardiology and population health science and policy at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. "We need to think about women as their own individual biology, and come up with the answers for them."

Mehran called for an improvement to the current system of research.

"We keep saying that we're understudying, under-recognizing, under-diagnosing these women. And we need to make all kinds of efforts to make sure that our clinical trials have good representation of women. So when we have new devices, new drugs, the application is not just for men," she said. 

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