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  • Writer's pictureMyrna Driedger

Women’s Heart Health

The Heart and Stroke Foundation just released a spotlight report called:

System Failure: Healthcare Inequities.

This report outlines how healthcare continues to leave women’s heart and brai health behind. It outlines the progress that has been made, but also highlights how our system continues to fail women and how gaps in awareness, research, diagnosis and care threaten their heart and brain health. Women tend to delay presenting. They are likely to say,“I’ll fix the kids’ breakfast and then go to the hospital.” Dr. Padma Kaul – Heart & Stroke Researcher According to this report, heart disease and stroke claimed the lives of 32,271 women in Canada in 2019. That is one woman’s life every 16 minutes. According to the Heart & Stroke Foundation: · National polling data found that nearly 40% of people in Canada do not realize that heart and strokes are the leading cause of premature death in women. · Women’s heart disease tends to appear in the smaller blood vessels of the heart rather than the major coronary arteries. This means that their symptoms might not fit the classic textbook picture of heart disease. Women are more likely to experience chest discomfort (rather than a crushing pain), shortness of breath, fatigue, indigestion and nausea, back or neck pain. · 2/3 of heart disease and stroke clinical research has focused on men. · #1 cause of premature death in women in Canada is heart disease and stroke. · ½ of women who experience a heart attack have their symptoms go unrecognized. · Risk of heart disease and stroke increases after menopause. · Women who experience a heart attack are less likely than men to receive the treatments and medications they need or get them in a timely way. · Women are still more likely than men to die in the year following a heart attack. · Women who experience STEM or NSTEMI – two of the three main types of heart attacks – are more likely than men to die or develop heart failure in the subsequent five years. · Women who experience stroke are at higher risk of dying than men – and if they survive, their outcomes are worse. · The rates of many heart conditions and stroke are increasing among younger women in Canada, and the number of women in Canada living with the risk factors for heart disease and stroke, such as hypertension and diabetes, is increasing. Excerpt from the report: “Traditional gender roles and expectations create barriers to care. Barriers to care go beyond physiological differences between men and women. Women tend to have more caregiving responsibilities and to prioritize the health needs of the family members over their own. That means a woman may prioritize caring for a child or taking an elderly parent to a medical appointment before seeking help for herself. Factors like low income and lack of access to child care can make it even more difficult to get the medical attention needed. Women also face more challenges advocating for themselves. Men and women typically have different communication styles. And research shows that men’s voices are considered more authoritative. As one woman with heart failure told us in a focus group, she always brings her son to her appointments because her doctor pays more attention when he speaks. When it comes to follow-up care, women are less likely to participate in cardiac rehabilitation programs than men and are less likely to stay in the program once enrolled. This puts them at a disadvantage for making the best recovery possible. Common barriers include lower incomes, family responsibilities and the lower likelihood of physician referrals.” Excerpt from the report: “Awareness: More work to do. Women can’t receive timely diagnosis and care if they – or the people around them – don’t recognize they need help. That’s why it is crucial to increase public awareness about the prevention of heart disease and stroke in women and the specific risks and symptoms they face, on top of the “traditional” factors. Public campaigns have improved awareness. However, a large proportion of people in Canada remain unaware of the disease burden and the inequities faced by women when it comes to heart disease and stroke – or the signs and risk factors unique to women. Educating healthcare workers is just as crucial.” Thank you to the Heart & Stroke Foundation for prioritizing women’s heart health. There is much more work to be done. The full report can be found on their website.


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