After cancer, heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada. In 2012, heart disease accounted for 20 percent of all recorded deaths in the country. Heart disease, also called ischemic heart disease or coronary heart disease, is caused by a build-up of plaque in the heart’s arteries, which could lead to many health problems, including a heart attack or heart failure.
According to a 2018 Heart Report released by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, a woman dies of heart disease in Canada every 20 minutes. In Canada, The Heart & Stroke Foundation found that heart disease in women is under-researched, under-diagnosed, under-treated, under-supported during recovery and under-aware of their risks. Two-thirds of clinical research on heart disease is still focused on men.
The 2018 Heart Report highlighted some interesting and shocking facts:
- Women are five times more likely to die from heart disease than breast cancer;
- Early signs of an imminent heart attack were missed in approximately 78 per cent of women, according to a past study;
- Women are more likely than men to die or have a second heart attack within the first six months of experiencing a cardiac event.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation states that 90 per cent of people in Canada have at least one risk factor for heart conditions. That’s a lot of people, which means adopting a healthy lifestyle and taking preventative measures is key to decreasing the risk of heart disease or failure.
Risk Factors for Women
Women with diabetes, who come from certain ethnic backgrounds or who are experiencing menopause are at a higher risk of developing heart disease or heart failure. The estrogen present in women’s bodies pre-menopause seems to protect from heart disease. However, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, pre-menopausal women who are diabetic will have a similar risk to men of the same age because diabetes cancels out the protective effect of estrogen. When women enter menopause, the decreased levels of estrogen tend to lead to higher cholesterol, higher blood pressure and increased body fat, all of which increases the risk of heart disease and heart failure.
Women who are obese, smoke, drink excessively or have other unhealthy lifestyle traits also increase their risk of developing heart disease and heart failure.
Risk Factors for Men
As with women, men who smoke, drink excessively and are obese are at a higher risk of developing heart disease or heart failure. However, there are medical traits that are unique to men, when it comes to heart health.
Studies are being conducted at John Hopkins Medical as early research indicates that low testosterone may contribute to heart disease. Low testosterone, often linked to low sex drive, may actually be indicative of a larger, more complicated health issue, such as heart disease.
Interestingly, men who also had heavy calcium build-up in their arteries were 43 percent more likely to develop erectile issues down the road. This places emphasis on the importance of coronary calcium screenings, which are CT scans that measure calcium build-up in heart arteries.
Stress and anxiety, which can lead to anger, raises blood pressure and stress hormone levels. This can result in restricted blood flow to the heart – and the damage can be immediate! Tests have shown that two hours following an angry outburst, the risk of a heart attack goes up five times!
It’s important to note that women also can experience stress and anxiety and have angry outbursts, which all affect the heart!
How Men and Women Can Reduce Risk of Heart Disease
Although the causes and symptoms of heart disease differ in men and women, the ways to reduce risk are the same for both sexes. The general rule: eat healthy, don’t smoke, don’t drink excessively and be active. If you’re already at risk of developing heart disease, then prevention is key. It’s never too late to adopt a healthier lifestyle. If you need support, speak to your doctor, a dietitian or a psychologist, to help put you on the path to better health.
Being active is important for everyone. Movement is easy and does not have to be complicated or involve a gym. Go for a walk, take an aquacise class or gentle restorative yoga. Any kind of movement has benefits. Start slow and work your way up!
Read our other various blogs related to heart health to learn more!