Dr. Elizabeth Grey on women’s heart health research on MPR News

February 14, 2020 

In a Feb. 11 interview on MPR News, Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation® research cardiologist Dr. Elizabeth Grey talked with host Marianne Combs about how heart disease affects women differently and the gap in women’s heart health research. Along with another guest cardiologist, Dr. Grey also discussed risk factors and symptoms for heart and vascular disease, shared lifestyle steps women can take to help prevent it, and answered callers’ questions.

Although more women die of heart disease than men every year, many people are surprised to hear that women’s heart health research lags about 35 years behind that for men. Dr. Grey explained the reason for that, which also often comes as a surprise to many people: Women of childbearing potential were essentially shut out of research for decades beginning in the late 1950s and early 1960s because of concerns over the risks to an unborn baby.

“(The research block) initially came about because of the thalidomide catastrophe in Europe,” said Dr. Grey. “Our government passed a law saying that women of childbearing potential — you either had to prove consistently and repeatedly that they weren’t pregnant or that they didn’t have childbearing potential — and to do that increased paperwork and cost for every trial. So basically women were boxed out of every FDA phase 1 trials for decades.”

She continued, “In the 1990s, our government passed a law saying we need to do more research in women … we don’t have any data … we’re extrapolating all the data on men to women… and that’s when there started to be more research on women. But again, women still only comprise 30 percent of all the study subjects in trials. And it takes decades of studying many thousands of patients to get accurate data.”

The cardiologists also discussed the misperception that exists among the public and even in the health care community that women’s symptoms are the same as men’s, and why heart attacks in women often are misdiagnosed.

Our Penny Anderson Women’s Cardiovascular Center is committed to closing the research gap and eliminating the disparities that exist in health care delivery and health outcomes between men and women.