Defense Media Network

VA Focuses Attention on Women’s Cardiac Health


Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, and approximately the same number of women and men die each year from cardiovascular causes, according to 2013 figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those facts, combined with Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) data showing the number of women veterans on the rise, reinforce the importance of the VA’s efforts directed toward women’s cardiac health.

For example, the VA has partnered with the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” campaign in order to improve awareness among both veterans and providers regarding heart disease in women. Each year in February, the VA coordinates events across the country in local VA medical centers, as well as in the VA Central Office, for “Go Red” day. Events include healthy cooking demonstrations, wellness and exercise classes, and presentations on heart disease in women.

In another example, VA Women’s Health Services has published a VA document, “State of Cardiovascular Health in Women Veterans.”1 According to the publication, it’s the first in a planned series of reports. It evaluates cardiovascular risk factors, conditions, and procedures occurring in VA outpatient care in women and men veterans.

Key findings include the rapid growth of the women veterans’ population, the shifting age distribution of that population, and the high frequency of cardiovascular risk factors in women and men veterans. The document also notes that while the largest group of women veterans is those aged 45 to 64, who will require cardiovascular care as they continue to age, the influx of younger women veterans necessitates a focus on prevention of cardiovascular disease risk factors.

Additionally, through the use of data from the VA cardiac catheterization laboratory clinical data registry, there have been several important research publications looking at insights into cardiovascular disease in women veterans. One recent publication from 20152 investigated 3,181 women veterans who underwent cardiac catheterization between Oct. 1, 2007, and Sept. 30, 2012. These women veterans had fewer classic risk factors for coronary artery disease (CAD) than men, but higher rates of obesity, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, and lower rates of obstructive CAD on angiography than men. These findings suggest that the clinical presentations prompting referral of women veterans for catheterization is not as likely to be due to obstructive CAD as it is in men.

The VA looks to further research studies to help discriminate these gender differences in more detail and to develop effective treatments.

1Whitehead AM, Davis MB, Duvernoy C, Safdar B, Nkonde-Price C, Iqbal S, Balasubramanian V, Frayne SM, Friedman SA, Hayes PM, Haskell SG. “State of Cardiovascular Health in Women Veterans. Volume 1: VA Outpatient Diagnoses and Procedures in FY 10.” Women’s Health Evaluation Initiative, Women’s Health Services, Veterans Health Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, October 2013.

2Davis MB, Maddox TM, Langner P, Plomondon ME, Rumsfeld JS, Duvernoy CS. “Characteristics and outcomes of women veterans undergoing cardiac catheterization in the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System: Insights from the VA CART Program.” Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes 2015;8:S39-S47.