Feature Archive

The State of Women's Health

Strides have been made, but women are still a step behind.

WebMD Feature Ten years ago, a woman suffering a heart attack was too often misdiagnosed. Without the chest pains commonly seen in men, her symptoms of dizziness or back pain were often dismissed as unimportant.

If she did happen to be taken seriously, her doctor might have given her a diagnostic test. But some tests, doctors now know, aren't reliable when used in women.

Today, however, a woman in cardiac arrest is more likely to be diagnosed properly and live to tell about it. In fact, thanks in large part to an unprecedented national focus on women's health, women are being more effectively screened and treated for a whole host of diseases.

"Women's health has moved beyond something people just talk about at the policy level," says Elena Rios, M.D., Executive Director of the National Hispanic Medical Association.

According to the National Institutes of Health, screening for cervical cancer has resulted in a 40% decline in the incidence and death from the disease since 1970. Similarly, the death rate for breast cancer declined by 6% just between 1990 and 1994.

"Now we're going beyond screening, to improving management and treatment of diseases," says Rios. Women are being diagnosed earlier and living longer. But, she stresses, the way women are educated and treated once they are diagnosed still needs improvement.