Transgender folks are at a significantly higher risk of heart attack, American scientists have found.
The grim but not surprising news was recently published in Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, and finds that trans men are four times as likely as cis men to have a heart attack, trans women two times as likely as cis women.
In recent times, huge strides have been made towards securing human rights and decreasing invisibility or marginalization for transgender people, in western nations and also around the world. Some of the most dangerous countries for trans people have made significant headway. Equality in health for trans folks lags far behind cis people however, even in America and Europe. As this study shows, trans people have a much higher risk than cis people of heart attacks. But why?
The authors of the study say, “We don’t have enough awareness or enough health care dedicated to this population.” While this is changing, change is slow and complex.
We barely understand the issues of heart disease in general—a relatively new scourge in human history, a rarity in the past. While some ancient Egyptian mummies show signs of arteriosclerosis, heart disease was relatively rare until modern times. Saturated fat was deemed a major culprit; now many scientists blame industrial oils like soy and canola instead. Some blame sugar and carbohydrates. Smoking, alcohol, stress, inflammation, and testosterone are all culprits, and probably, the greatest risk factors are combinations of all of these.
For trans people, researchers suggest that major contributors to the problem are social stress factors like poverty, employment discrimination, isolation, and unequal treatment or access to quality health care. Some trans people are afraid to see a doctor or to get adequate treatment because of transphobia in the medical industry. The study suggests making healthcare more accessible and welcoming to transgender people.
Additionally, they state, “Increased stress levels related to neglect, abuse, and mistreatment have been hypothesized to contribute to increased inflammation, which may, in turn, predispose to cardiovascular disease.”
Transgender populations are also at high risk because these social inequality factors lead to increased substance abuse and stressful work like sex work, which increase health risks for any demographic.
Finally, the hormones that many transgender people take can carry risks. Cis women are often conflicted about taking estrogen during menopause because of increased stroke and cardiovascular risks, and cis men taking testosterone for bodybuilding or as sex aids can suffer from the excess. We don’t have much experience studying the effects on trans people so far, but even in the benefits of hormone treatment are important, the risks and side effects are still real.
It’s important that we continue to study health issues that directly relate to transgender people, and studies like this one will help direct us towards specific solutions for improving the health of trans men and women everywhere.