A new alliance of health groups focused on bridging the gap between men’s and women’s health care stressed Thursday that the health care industry cannot abide by a one-size-fits all research system.

Women and men regularly exhibit different symptoms for the same diseases and tend to have disparate reactions to various medications, treatments and medical devices, said attendees of a congressional briefing in Washington, D.C., of the Coalition for Women’s Health Equity, a newly formed group comprised of 15 member organizations.

For instance, despite the fact that cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women, just one-third of all heart research subjects are female. Failing to include women in health care research initiatives at the same rate as men could make women more susceptible to receiving wrong diagnoses, poor treatment or subpar care, speakers said.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) speaking at the panel and sharing her support for the coalition.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) speaking at the panel and sharing her support for the coalition.

Katherine Leon, a heart attack survivor and WomenHeart champion speaking on the panel, said that several years ago, she knew that something was wrong and that her body was out of sync – but doctors dismissed her symptoms.

“I was patronized, dismissed, viewed as a drama queen and called an anxious female,” she said. Days later, she suffered a heart attack.

It is these situations that members of the coalition say they hope to make a problem of the past.

“The reality is that many women — and their health care providers — don’t realize gender differences play an important role in prevention, diagnosis and treatment, particularly for cardiovascular disease,” said Nancy Brown, chief executive of the American Heart Association, a coalition partner. “Inequities for American women is an issue that deserves our urgent attention.”

Photo courtesy of Clare Rizer