Women overlooked for CVD checks in general practice

With men more likely than women to have their cardiovascular disease risk factors measured by their GP, can pharmacists help bridge the divide?

Research from The George Institute for Global Health and the University of Sydney has found men are significantly more likely than women to have their heart disease risk factors measured by their GP.

These risk factors include raised cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and smoking.

The study of more than 53,000 patients from 60 primary healthcare sites across Australia, published in the journal Heart, has also found age is a factor that leaves younger women the most vulnerable.

For example, researchers found the odds of being treated with preventative medicines are 37% lower for younger women at high risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) compared to their male counterparts.

Meanwhile older women (aged 65 and over) are 34% more likely than older men to have appropriate medications prescribed.

Overall, the odds of women being appropriately screened for heart disease risk factors are 12% lower than men.

Lead author, University of Sydney PhD student Karice Hyun, says it is “simply unacceptable” that more than half of young women in the study did not receive appropriate heart health medications.

“These medications can greatly reduce the likelihood of having a heart attack or stroke. If these findings are representative, many women could be missing out on life-saving treatment right now – just because of their age and gender.”

Associate Professor Julie Redfern, from The George Institute, says the results are especially concerning because more women than men die from CVD each year.

“Unfortunately there is still the perception that heart disease is a man’s disease. This is not the case here in Australia, the UK or the US and we fear that one of the reasons more women are dying from heart disease is because they are not being treated correctly, including not even being asked basic questions about their health,” says A/Prof Redfern.

Ms Hyun says that since many pharmacists now conduct screening for blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking and more, they can potentially play a role in the bridging the gender divide.

“Pharmacists may well be able to play a role in evening out CVD screening levels between women and men as well as increasing the overall rate of CVD screening,” says Ms Hyun.

She says pharmacies are accessible, particularly for the screening process.

“Pharmacies could seem a little less intimidating and easier to access than going to a general practitioner for some people who may relate general practice as a place to go when they are sick.

“The more exposure to screening that people can get, the better it will be in preventing CVD for women or men,” says Ms Hyun.

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