Health & Wellness

Heart Researchers Largely Exclude Women and Older People

The very people most at risk for heart disease aren’t being included in drug trials and research studies

By Katrina Caruso

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of premature death for Canadian women, killing almost 25,000 every year—five times more than die of breast cancer, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. Women are more likely than men to die from heart disease.

And yet, according to study results published this past summer in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, two-thirds of the drug testing and medical research on heart disease is done on men. And while people with the two most common heart diseases are, on average, 69, the men being studied were, on average, 63.

What all this means is most of the heart-related drug tests and medical research being conducted tells us little about the people most in need of diagnosis and treatment.

Dr. Quoc Dinh Nguyen, a geriatrician and a professor at the Université de Montréal, led a team that looked at 500 clinical trials for heart disease medications—the 25 most cited and most influential trials in each of the 20 years between 1996 and 2015. The team’s review showed that only 14% of the clinical trials had more female than male participants, and 71% of new heart medications were tested primarily on male participants.

Nguyen called on regulatory agencies to demand greater representation of women and older adults in drug testing.

In a 2018 report entitled Ms.Understood, the Heart and Stroke Foundation bluntly stated that “Women’s hearts are victims of a system that is ill-equipped to diagnose, treat, and support them.” This despite the fact that heart attacks tend to be more deadly for women than for men. According to report, early signs of heart attack were missed in 78% of women.