Women face three challenges in fighting heart disease, pioneering cardiologist Nanette Wenger said during a Hadassah Greater Atlanta Gender Equity in Medicine forum Sunday, Sept. 10, at Congregation Or Hadash.

Women must investigate the disparities between men and women on heart disease diagnosis and treatment, educate health professionals and the general public on those differences, and advocate legislation to pay for research, women’s health coverage and disease prevention, the Emory University professor and Grady Memorial Hospital doctor said.

Recent research has found that women can have heart attacks with no apparent arterial blockage, Wenger said. The causes include microvascular disease (tiny obstructions in arteries) and spontaneous coronary artery dissection (a tear in an artery, an increasing cause of heart attacks in apparently healthy young women). More than 90 percent of SCAD patients are women.

Wenger spoke on a panel that also included neurologist Allan Levey and obstetrician/gynecologist Mimi Zieman. Hadassah Medical Organization Chair Rachel Schonberger, an internist, moderated the discussion, which was organized by Hadassah Greater Atlanta’s Health Professionals and Ketura groups.

The discussion was part of a forum sponsored by Dressler’s Jewish Funeral Care that highlighted the health care differences between men and women, from medication reactions to disease symptoms to medical access.

Zieman built on the advocacy element of Wenger’s comments.

“Every cell has a gender,” Zieman said, quoting from a study by Paula Johnson, a Harvard specialist on sex and gender.

Noting an increase in maternal mortality, Zieman advised each woman to be an advocate for her personal health.

That effort includes getting information from such online sources as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Zieman, the vice president of clinical affairs for women’s medical device maker Femasys. Go to doctor’s visits ready with key questions. Analyze health policy issues from a woman’s perspective and advocate beneficial policies to eliminate disparities in health care and research.

Levey said 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, and that number will rise as people live longer because half of Americans who reach age 85 will develop the degenerative brain disease.

More women than men develop Alzheimer’s, in part because women have a greater life expectancy, although the effect of hormones on the brain may be a factor, Levey said.

Current medications can slow but not cure the disease, which accounts for two-thirds of dementia cases.

More research is needed to improve early detection, and Emory University’s major Healthy Aging Study can contribute to that effort. Levey, who directs the Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, encouraged enrollment in that study, as well as in clinical trials of anti-Alzheimer’s drugs.

Organizations participating in the GEM forum included the Alzheimer’s Association, the American Parkinson Disease Association, Atlanta mental health initiative Baken, the Marcus Jewish Community Center, the National Council of Jewish Women, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Planned Parenthood Southeast, and the National Coalition for Women With Heart Disease.

(From left) Bonnie Berk, Helene Jacoby and Marsha Hildebrand near bags of heart-healthy information and tips distributed by the National Coalition for Women With Heart Disease.

(From left) Devi Knapp, Sharon Shatil and Janette Berne represent Baken — In the Nest at the forum.