A month ago, Priya (name changed), a devoted mother in her early 40s, experienced a life-altering event. While attending to her family’s needs, she dismissed the unusual tightness in her chest and shortness of breath as mere fatigue, attributing them to the daily demands of being a mother. Ignoring the warning signs, Priya continued putting her family’s well-being before her own, unaware she was experiencing a heart attack. Her story reflects the tendency of mothers to neglect their own health while prioritizing their loved ones. This highlights the urgent need for increased awareness and tailored interventions to address cardiac health issues specific to mothers or women in general.
Traditionally, cardiac disease has long been considered a predominantly male health issue, but recent research highlights its increasing prevalence among women. Alarmingly, cardiovascular disease is now the leading cause of death among women globally, resulting in 173 million deaths annually. The situation is particularly concerning in India, with cardiovascular disease accounting for 25% of all female deaths. A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (ACC) reveals that Indian women are three times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than women in high-income countries. These statistics emphasise the urgent need for gender-specific approaches to prevent, diagnose, and treat cardiac disease.
Neglected Health Needs
Most women often prioritise the health and well-being of their families over their own, leading to a lack of attention to their own health needs. This neglect may stem from a lack of awareness, societal pressure, or financial constraints. It is crucial for women to understand the importance of self-care, and healthcare providers must prioritise women’s health as well. By providing gender-specific approaches to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cardiac disease, we can improve health outcomes for women and their families.
Impact on Emotional Well-being
Cardiac disease significantly affects a woman’s emotional well-being and overall quality of life. Women may experience anxiety, depression, and social isolation as a result of their condition. They may also struggle with feelings of guilt or shame for neglecting their health. Addressing these emotional aspects of cardiac disease is vital, and adequate support must be provided to ensure that women can lead healthy and fulfilling lives.
Recognising Biological Differences& Motherhood
Biological differences between men and women contribute to variations in cardiac disease prevalence, symptoms, and outcomes. Women may present with atypical symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, or nausea, which can delay diagnosis and treatment. Additionally, women face unique risk factors such as hormonal changes and pregnancy-related complications. Societal and cultural factors can also affect women’s access to healthcare and influence the perception and treatment of cardiac disease in women. Furthermore, life stages such as late pregnancy, menopause, and motherhood present unique challenges and considerations that can significantly influence a woman’s cardiovascular well-being.
Pregnancy in later years, commonly referred to as late pregnancy or advanced maternal age, can pose increased cardiovascular risks for women. Women who conceive after the age of 35 may have a higher likelihood of developing gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and preeclampsia, all of which can have long-term implications for their cardiac health. Motherhood, while a fulfilling experience, can also impact a woman’s cardiac health. The emotional and psychological stress associated with motherhood, including the challenges of balancing childcare responsibilities with other commitments, can contribute to increased stress levels, potentially impacting cardiac well-being.
The Need for Gender-Specific Approaches
Current approaches to cardiac disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment have predominantly focused on men, which does not adequately address the unique challenges faced by women. Gender-specific approaches are necessary to overcome these challenges, improve detection, enhance outcomes, and reduce healthcare costs.
Digital Therapeutics for Gender-Specific Approaches
Digital Therapeutics (DTx) can play a crucial role in providing gender-specific approaches to cardiac disease management. These software-based interventions can be used as standalone treatments or in conjunction with traditional medical interventions. DTx platforms, accessible via smartphones or web-based platforms, offer personalised support and feedback based on an individual’s health data.
DTx can adapt to the specific needs of women with cardiac disease, incorporating the impact of hormonal changes and pregnancy-related complications on women’s cardiovascular health. They can provide tailored interventions that address the unique risk factors women face and consider the biological differences between men and women that contribute to differences in cardiac disease prevalence, symptoms, and outcomes.
For instance, DTx can offer support and guidance to women who experience hormonal changes and pregnancy-related complications that impact their cardiovascular health. These interventions can also provide assistance to women who struggle to prioritise their health due to multiple responsibilities such as family and work obligations.
An Exemplary Gender-Specific Approach: “Fight the Ladykiller” Campaign
One notable example of a gender-specific approach to cardiac disease management that incorporates digital therapeutics is the Women’s Heart Alliance’s (WHA) “Fight the Ladykiller” campaign. This campaign includes an online heart health assessment tool specifically tailored to women, providing personalised recommendations for the prevention and management of cardiac disease. The tool also offers access to a virtual coaching program that provides support and guidance on making lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise.
In India too, digital app recommended by the leading cardiologists are available for patients with post ACS conditions. These apps have intuitive interface and offers intervention to improve their heart health through doctor-connected online and offline modules.
Prioritising Women’s Cardiac Health
The increasing prevalence of cardiac disease among women necessitates gender-specific approaches to its prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Digital Therapeutics, with its ability to provide personalised and accessible support, play a crucial role in addressing these needs.It is time to bridge the gender gap in cardiac disease management, ensuring that women receive the resources and support necessary to lead healthy and fulfilling lives. Let us work collectively to prioritise women’s cardiac health and create a healthier future for all.
This article was first published in the Times of India on 30th May 2023