As someone who rose to fame in the 70s, Barbra Streisand knows a thing or two about gender inequality, but the singer and actor was completely shocked when she realised that prejudice extended to the hospital emergency ward.
Ms Streisand tells this month’s InStyle magazine that when her mother, Diana was diagnosed with heart disease at 81 and had to have emergency bypass surgery, she discovered that preconceptions about the condition were causing women to die too soon.
She says, “I later learned about the scope of the epidemic and was startled to discover that heart disease kills more women than men,” she explains. “It’s more deadly for us than all forms of cancers combined.
“Heart disease affects women’s hearts differently than it does men’s, yet most of the research is based on men,” she says. “Because of this, women aren’t getting the same chance at life, and it’s unacceptable.”
In 2014, Ms Streisand started the Women’s Heart Alliance and has been campaigning for more funding for research and awareness. She believes the problem needs to be tackled in several ways, starting with a viral-style campaign, similar to Breast Cancer Awareness and the launch of the pink ribbon.
She also says doctors don’t pay enough attention to women’s symptoms, and there is a failure to understand that they differ to men’s.
“A lot of people don’t realise women’s symptoms are frequently different from and more subtle than men’s, which leads to the disease being misdiagnosed. Our first signs of a heart attack may include nausea, backaches, extreme fatigue, or shortness of breath rather than the Hollywood version of crushing chest pain, which is more common in men,” she says.
Women’s health continues to be at risk after a heart attack too. In an op ed Ms Streisand told the Washington Post, “Many people are unaware that women who have heart attacks are more likely than men to die within a year.
She also spoke about the so-called “Yentl syndrome” — a phrase used to describe the fact evidence that women who have heart attacks are not getting the same quality of care as men.
Research into women’s experience of the disease is also scant. Ms Streisand says, “Most [people] have no clue that heart research is primarily done on males, right down to the mice in the labs.”
The Women’s Heart Alliance runs a powerful ad campaign (below) to raise awareness about this “ladykiller”, and Ms Streisand says the goal is to motivate women to be proactive about their risk.
“Women are at the center of their families and often put their own wellbeing last. We must encourage them to make their health a priority by speaking to their doctors, learning the risk factors, and getting screened annually,” she told InStyle.
“I think about the loss of so many mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, and friends. I’ll keep talking about this issue at every event and dinner party I attend until we make progress.”