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Heart Health 2019

Barbra Streisand Fights for Equal Billing for Women’s Health

Barbra Streisand
Barbra Streisand

Heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of premature death for women in Canada, killing five times as many women as breast cancer. Legendary director, singer, actress, and producer Barbra Streisand is on a mission to change that. She co-founded the Women’s Heart Alliance to prevent women from needlessly facing and dying from heart disease and stroke. Noel Bairey Merz, M.D., is the organization’s Scientific Advisor and spoke with Streisand about her deep commitment to this cause.  

Noel Bairey Merz: How did you become interested in advocating for those with heart disease?

Barbra Streisand: When I made my movie Yentl — in which a young woman gets an education by pretending to be a man — I had no idea the project would, in a roundabout way, lead me to advocate for women’s heart health. But years later, I read about “Yentl syndrome,” a phrase coined to describe the finding that women with heart attacks get substandard care compared to men. That inequity persists to this day.

Why don’t more women know about their risk?

In a Women’s Heart Alliance survey, we found that a lot of women are embarrassed about having heart disease, others aren’t aware that they have it, and many people think heart disease strikes only old men. Too often, heart disease deaths are wrongly attributed to natural causes or ailments and as a result, women are not making a personal connection to heart disease or sharing their stories.

In addition to promoting awareness of women’s risk for heart disease, you’ve done a lot to advocate for health care equity for women. Why is that?

We are decades behind in our knowledge about what works for women with heart disease compared to men because clinical trials have traditionally included more men than women. I remember learning how different heart attacks in men and women can seem, and how frequently women are misdiagnosed as a result. To ensure that trials consider the differences between the sexes, I encourage women to participate. And I plan to keep urging and advocating until we make real progress in securing the education, research, and funding needed to properly diagnose and treat women’s heart disease.

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