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March 20, 2002

Women Still Face Inequality in Diagnosis, Treatment And Clinical Studies of Heart Disease

National Expert in Women's Cardiovascular Care at Penn Discusses Medical Matters of the Heart at the National American College of Cardiology Annual Meeting

When it comes to heart disease, women still face discrimination in the way the illness is diagnosed and treated, as well as in epidemiological studies that form the basis for disease treatment strategies, according to a national expert in women 's cardiovascular medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

Mariell Jessup, MD, Director of Women's Cardiovascular Health at Penn, spoke on the status of heart failure in women at the national meeting of the American College of Cardiology in Atlanta, which draws 30,000 participants annually.

"Women make up half of the 4.7 million Americans with heart failure, but they suffered 62.3 percent of the heart-failure fatalities last year," Jessup said. "In fact, 20 percent of all women diagnosed with heart failure die within a year, and fewer than 15 percent of women survive more than eight to 12 years after the initial diagnosis. Research also indicates that, in general, women with heart failure have a poorer quality of life than men."

Further, in reviewing recent major epidemiological studies, Jessup found "there are important baseline differences by gender" in patients who were randomly selected to participate in the well-known 'BEST' heart failure study, which was one of the largest clinical trials ever designed to focus on advanced heart failure. Those gender differences, which included age, race and cigarette smoking histories, "are known to influence mortality in heart failure," Jessup says.

Jessup has also found the percentage of women participants in numerous other scientific studies was significantly lower than 50 percent, despite the fact that women make up more than half the population.

"In addition to assuring baseline equity, scientists have to make sure they include a representative proportion of women in their research," Jessup says. "These are issues that medical professionals, from general practitioners to clinical researchers, must address for purposes of accuracy and effectiveness as a well as equality in medical care."


The University of Pennsylvania Health System is distinguished not only by its historical significance -- first hospital (1751), first medical school (1765), first university teaching hospital (1874), first fully integrated academic health system (1993) -- but by its leadership in the practice of medicine in the 21st Century. Among all American medical schools, Penn ranks second in funding from the National Institutes of Health, perhaps the single most important barometer of research strength.




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