Feb 28, 2023



Heart Disease in Women: Why Marketers Should Start Cardiovascular Conversations

Heart disease is commonly associated with men, even though cardiovascular issues kill one in five women yearly in the U.S. Here’s how marketers can kick-start more conversations about heart health to better serve female patients.

Since 1950, heart disease has been the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. While often mistakenly perceived as a man’s disease, it affects over one in three women. Pregnancy disorders, such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, increase the risk of chronic high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, arrhythmias, heart inflammation, and other serious cardiovascular conditions later in life.

But if 80% of these diseases are preventable with education and action, why are women still so strongly impacted? In this article, we’ll unravel the nuances of heart disease among women, exploring how accessibility, symptom awareness, and medical gaslighting contribute to this issue and what marketers can do to help female patients take better care of themselves.

Heart Disease is Not Just a Man’s Disease

While it’s true that men have a higher probability of dying from heart disease than women, both patient groups have faced similar mortality rates since 2017.

However, a 2019 study found that only 44% of U.S. women surveyed were aware of heart disease as a leading cause of death within their demographic. For such a severe and ongoing threat to women’s health, why isn’t awareness more widespread? Long story short: it’s complicated.

Women don’t always experience the same heart disease symptoms as men. Patients are generally told to look for telltale signs of a heart attack: debilitating chest pain, upper body discomfort, cold sweats, shortness of breath, dizziness, and lightheadedness. But in the female body, cardiovascular issues can manifest in subtler ways, such as extreme fatigue, indigestion, weakness, and heavy arms. Medical experts attribute these unique signs to blockages in small vessels that occur more frequently in women.

Since these symptoms are common across other conditions and illnesses, it can be challenging for women—and even doctors—to pinpoint the root cause accurately. Historically, medical research into cardiovascular conditions was performed exclusively in men, with current guidelines for diagnosis and treatment deriving from these studies. Therefore, a female patient experiencing the above sensations risk being misdiagnosed because their symptoms may not align with what’s been historically familiar.

To that end, medical gaslighting is another reason why heart disease has been largely underrecognized in women. Derived from the title of a British play, the term “gaslight” refers to an instance where an individual minimizes the severity or accuracy of another person’s feelings, thoughts, or recollections.

In the healthcare space, women and people of color are more likely to encounter this phenomenon. A study found that women who went to an emergency room for chest pains waited 11 minutes longer on average to see a medical professional compared to men who also complained of chest pains. Likewise, women were less likely to be admitted and receive comprehensive tests and often told that their symptoms were not heart-related. Unfortunately, when it comes to heart disease, every minute delayed in care means an increased risk of a condition turning fatal. 

Women Want Doctors They Can Trust

Choosing the right doctor is a potentially life-saving decision, but high-quality care requires robust patient-doctor relationships that are open-minded, honest, and transparent. When patients feel valued and heard, they’re more likely to feel comfortable sharing personal health information, which enables physicians to make correct diagnoses and forge effective treatment plans.

Healthgrades recently conducted a Women’s Health Research study, surveying 1,217 patients across races, gender, ethnicities, age groups, and income levels to better understand what female patients prioritize when it comes to seeking healthcare.1 Among female respondents, the leading factors that influence satisfaction with a primary care physician’s services are:2

  • Whether the doctor listens to the respondent’s concerns (48%)
  • The ability of the respondent to trust the doctor’s decisions regarding their care (44%)
  • And whether the doctor answers their questions (38%)

Women also care about physician compatibility. According to Healthgrades’ BIPOC Healthcare Attitudes study, female patients are more likely to agree that it’s important for their doctor or specialist to be the same gender (27% of women vs. 19.5% of men).3 Around 23% of women under 45 also believe having a shared racial and cultural background with their doctor is essential.4

As such, representation in healthcare matters. Nearly 60% of Black women over 20 have heart disease, and Black women are twice as likely to develop chronic hypertension during pregnancy than White women. Medical experts must be mindful of these racial discrepancies and the social determinants of health that contribute to these negative patterns. With 31% of physicians believing their level of cultural competency can impact their ability to provide optimal care, it’s now more crucial than ever for health systems to maintain a diverse medical staff. But there are additional ways to support women in their heart health journey.

Awareness is Key to Reversing Heart Disease Trends

Heart disease affects millions of women—but it doesn’t have to. As mentioned, because many women aren’t aware of their risk of developing a heart-related condition, they’re likely unable to identify a cardiac event as it happens. Awareness can go a long way in boosting preventative health habits, correcting diagnoses, and developing successful treatment plans, and marketers have the resources to make this a reality.

Pharma and health system marketers can use their campaigns to embed educational data and encourage female patients to keep up with annual appointments, well-woman exams, and learn more about risk factors for chronic conditions like heart disease. According to our Women’s Health Research report, more than half of U.S. women skipped, avoided, or delayed a healthcare visit within the past year, which can be detrimental for those living with undiagnosed disorders and diseases.5 

At the same time, marketers need to be wary of external factors contributing to missed doctor visits. In the same study, we found that the top reason women neglect care is high out-of-pocket costs.6 Not everyone has comprehensive healthcare insurance coverage, and for patients with chronic conditions that require frequent appointments and testing, dollars can quickly add up. Pharma marketers can help ease financial doubts by sharing transparent cost information and referring women to prescription discount sites that house affordable treatment options. With hospital price transparency laws in effect, health system marketers should also be upfront about the fees associated with services and medical evaluations.

Transparency helps remove barriers to care, but it also nurtures the one component that keeps patient-doctor relationships thriving: trust.

Keep a Pulse on Women’s Heart Health with Healthgrades

Healthgrades is home to the largest number of commercially-insured female patients ready to take the next step with their health. As a platform that cultivates patient-doctor relationships, we’re dedicated to helping your health system or pharma brand connect with your target audience and drive meaningful conversions.

Health system marketers can advertise on Healthgrades to capture consumers when they’re actively searching for care. Featured placement, prominent branding, and clear calls to action on healthgrades.com physician search results pages and doctor profiles ensure that more consumers see your health system first. Our competitive intercept feature lists your doctors’ profiles as alternative options directly on your competitor profiles, providing you with another avenue for new patient acquisition. Cardiology service lines can also enjoy more traffic with detailed physician profiles that give female patients insight into the qualifications they’re looking for, such as areas of expertise, patient ratings, frequency of treatment, and more.

For pharmaceutical advertisers, our editorial solutions educate women about heart health related conditions. Our Guided Physician Search is embedded within this content and on your own brand.com to help nudge them toward the next step on their healthcare checklist. PatientConnect Video can also help you drive more treatment discussions by displaying your brand’s ads after deeply engaging video content. Most pharma video ads end with a call to action for patients to talk to their doctor, and with Healthgrades video solutions, we actually provide the tools for patients to take action with embedded appointment scheduling links. When you advertise with Healthgrades, your brand remains on patients’ minds as they discuss prescription options with their doctors and make a final Rx decision.

Get in touch with Healthgrades today to help women combat current heart disease statistics and deepen their trust in your brand.

1 Note: Inclusive gender identity options were given, but less than 1% identified as other than “male” or “female”. Surveys were conducted on Suzy and weighted to be nationally representative based on age, gender, ethnicity, and region.
2 Healthgrades Women’s Health Research, July 2022.
3 Infosurv and Healthgrades BIPOC Healthcare Attitudes Study, n=604, July 2022.
4 Ibid.
5 Healthgrades Women’s Health Research, July 2022.
6 Ibid.