GMA exclusive: Dr. Jennifer Ashton discusses American Heart Association call to close gender gaps in heart health

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(NEW YORK) — An upcoming report by the American Heart Association estimates that closing gaps in women’s heart health could add 1.6 million years of quality of life and boost the economy by $28 billion dollars a year by 2040.

The report calls for earlier diagnosis and more treatment in addition to specific focus in pregnancy, menopause and among Black women to effectively close the gender gap in heart health for over 60 million women who are living with heart disease in the United States.

The report will be published later this month in the journal Circulation and builds on previous research done in partnership with the McKinsey Health Institute and World Economic Forum, the AHA said.

ABC News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton, a board-certified physician in obstetrics and gynecology and obesity medicine, reported this dire call to action Monday in an exclusive first look on ABC’s Good Morning America.

“The American Heart Association is really calling loudly, yelling in fact, for closing that gender gap when you look at heart disease,” Ashton said.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, but there are some key areas that disproportionately impact women compared to their male counterparts. Women are more likely to die from a heart attack than men, and women 45-65 years old have the greatest rise in high blood pressure, according to the report.

The AHA report calls for an approach across the life course to effectively close these gaps and highlights two important life stages for women: pregnancy and menopause, “two critically important hormonal times in a woman’s life,” Ashton said.

“It’s time to connect the dots on these hormonal times,” she added.

Pregnancy places added stress on a woman’s heart and can be associated with health conditions like high blood pressure and gestational diabetes, which increase a woman’s risk of heart disease in addition to poor pregnancy outcomes such as pre-eclampsia and premature birth.

Many preventable maternal deaths are due to heart disease. The AHA report calls for prevention of maternal deaths through better access to care, treatment and monitoring during the time surrounding pregnancy.

Women are also at increased risk of having heart disease during and after menopause. Research has shown that women with severe menopausal hot flashes have a higher risk of heart disease than similarly aged men. The AHA report calls for improved research to better understand this increased risk and to help find better treatments.

Disparities also exist among women. More Black women have heart disease than non-Black women and have greater rates of complications from heart disease. The report calls for an end to racial disparities in heart health by recognizing role of structural racism, addressing biases and health-related social needs, as well as tailoring the healthcare system to better care for these communities.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Ashton said.

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