Campbell Rogers, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, HeartFlow kindly shared his expert insights with Hospital Hub… a very worthwhile read indeed.
Society considers heart disease and heart attacks to be a man’s problem. Popular media, such as movies and television shows, have fed this attitude, with predominantly male characters portrayed clutching their chests and dropping to the floor – think Simon Callow’s character in Four Weddings and a Funeral or Vito Corleone meeting his end in The Godfather.
Despite what we see and hear, women of course also suffer from heart disease. In fact, each year heart disease kills more women than breast cancer, and more people than prostate and breast cancer combined. What’s more, the European Society of Cardiology found that women wait, on average, 37 minutes longer than men to seek medical help when experiencing heart attack symptoms which may result in worse outcomes for women.
Symptoms of coronary artery disease often differ between sexes and can often manifest in more subtle ways than chest pain – for example, if a woman experiences an ache in her jaw or back, or has nausea, then it could be a symptom of heart disease. There is a prevalent lack of awareness about some of the symptoms of heart disease, and we have to work together to ensure both women and men understand the signs. For example, a recent consumer survey commissioned by HeartFlow found that only 20% of Britons identified nausea and just 23% identified pain in the back as symptoms related to the heart.
Technology is now beginning to level the playing field when it comes to heart health. Thanks to breakthrough technology being rolled out by the NHS, doctors can see exactly what’s going on in a patient’s coronary arteries, no matter how nonspecific the symptoms they’re experiencing may be.
Available in more than 30 NHS hospitals in the UK, the HeartFlow Analysis is helping clinicians diagnose and form treatment plans for coronary heart disease (CHD). This non-invasive technology takes data from a patient’s computed tomography (CT) scan to produce an interactive, digital 3D model of the heart. The technology uses sophisticated computing to solve millions of complex algorithms and give clinicians a specific view of any blockages that are compromising blood flow to the patient’s heart. Unlike some other image-based testing, the HeartFlow Analysis is not impacted by the sex of the patient.
The HeartFlow Analysis allows doctors to understand the severity of any narrowing in the arteries, and decide whether to send patients for onward investigation, or whether they can be best treated with medications alone. For many patients, this means avoiding the risks inherent with an invasive procedure such as a coronary angiogram. For women in particular, who generally experience coronary artery disease symptoms at an older age than men, this is particularly key, as more than 50% of women who are sent for a diagnostic angiogram do not have obstructive disease yet are at risk for complications from the invasive procedure [JAHA DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.117.007965].
With innovations like the HeartFlow Analysis increasingly available to people within the UK, doctors are able to detect disease earlier, improving the chances of positive patient outcomes. And perhaps if more people – men and women – build better awareness of different coronary artery disease symptoms, it will reduce the worrying inequities between the sexes when it comes to heart health.