Every year, March 8 marks International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate women from all walks of life and acknowledge their achievements. As we honour Canadian women today, it’s important to acknowledge the significant impact that heart disease has on females in our country.
Heart disease is the leading cause of premature death among women in Canada. Despite this, however, many women are unaware of the risks and symptoms associated with heart disease.
Here are 10 shocking facts about women’s heart health that everyone should know:
1. Every 22 minutes, a woman in Canada dies of a heart attack.
This statistic is a sobering reminder of the prevalence and seriousness of cardiovascular disease in women. Despite common misconceptions that heart disease is primarily a male issue, women are just as vulnerable and at risk.
2. Women often experience different symptoms than men.
Though women are equally susceptible to heart disease, they often experience different – and sometimes more subtle – symptoms than men.
For example, prior to a heart attack, women may experience unusual fatigue, trouble sleeping, indigestion, and anxiety – symptoms that are easily overlooked and misinterpreted by doctors as the result of stress and a busy schedule. In fact, according to the 2018 Heart and Stroke Foundation report, the early signs of a heart attack were missed in 78% of women.
Learn more about the heart disease differences in men and women.
3. Heart disease is a leading cause of maternal mortality in Canada.
According to the Heart & Stroke Foundation, cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of new moms and accounts for over one-third of maternal deaths.
During pregancy, various changes to the body can put women at risk for developing certain conditions that increase the likelihood of heart disease later in life, including:
- Pre-eclampsia: typically begins after the 20th week of pregnancy and is related to high blood pressure
- Gestational diabetes: insufficient insulin production during pregnancy can cause blood sugar to rise and trigger gestational diabetes
4. Menopause can increase a woman’s risk for heart disease.
Though it’s important to note that menopause itself does not cause heart disease, the hormonal changes that occur during this phase of life can put women at an increased risk for heart disease, especially for those experiencing early onset menopause.
Women going through menopause may experience the following, all of which can increase their risk of heart disease:
- An increase in LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol
- A decrease in HDL (‘good’) cholesterol
- Higher blood pressure
- An increase in central body fat
5. Most cardiac research utilizes male patients.
Cardiac research has historically been conducted on male patients, leading to significant gaps in knowledge and an entire group of people that have been underfunded and understudied.
By excluding women from clinical trials and research studies, we risk overlooking important differences, such as responses to various treatments, and may be missing out on important insights into the prevention and treatment of heart disease in women. This underscores the need for more inclusive research practices that take into account gender differences and ensure that women are represented.
6. Female cardiac patients are less likely to receive rehab.
After a cardiac arrest, it is important for the patient to receive follow-up care, which may include a stay in the hospital and cardiac rehabilitation. However, recent research suggests that women are significantly less likely than men to utilize these programs.
From not being referred to cardiac rehab programs by their healthcare practitioners to minimizing their own needs, this statistic may aid in explaining why, when compared to men, women are more likely to die from a heart attack or suffer a second one.
7. Women are less likely to receive CPR from a bystander.
During a sudden cardiac arrest emergency, CPR (and an AED) are the patient’s only chance at survival. Despite this, studies have shown that bystanders are less likely to perform this lifesaving procedure on women.
Research suggests that unconscious biases may be at play, such as the perception that women are more fragile or vulnerable than men, which can lead to hesitation in rescuers administering CPR. Additionally, a fear of accusations of inappropriate touching may prevent first responders from performing CPR on women.
To address this issue, it is important to provide education and first aid training to the public on how to recognize and respond to cardiac arrest. By doing so, we can help to ensure that all patients receive prompt and effective care in the event of a cardiac emergency – regardless of their gender.
8. Most women in Canada have at least one risk factor for heart disease.
Whether its high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, the majority of Canadian women are living with at least one risk factor for heart disease. Many of these risk factors are closely linked to lifestyle choices, such as a diet high in saturated fats and sugars, physical inactivity, and smoking.
By taking steps to improve diet and physical activity, quit smoking, manage stress, and monitor and control chronic conditions, women can reduce their risk of heart disease and improve their overall health and well-being. Additionally, healthcare providers can play a key role in educating and supporting women in making these changes, as well as in identifying and treating risk factors in a timely and effective manner.
9. Women who smoke are more likely to have a heart attack as male smokers.
Smoking is a well-established risk factor for heart disease, and research has shown that women who smoke are more likely to experience a heart attack than male smokers. This could be due in part to the fact that women may be more susceptible to the negative effects of nicotine, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate.
10. Women have smaller coronary arteries than men, making cardiac surgeries more difficult.
Aside from societal barriers affecting women’s heart health, there are anatomical ones as well.
Women tend to have smaller and lighter coronary arteries than men, which can make cardiac surgeries and interventions more difficult. This can result in a higher risk of complications and a lower success rate for procedures such as angioplasty or coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG).
In addition, women may be more likely to experience a condition called microvascular dysfunction, which affects the smaller blood vessels in the heart and can cause symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath. This can be more difficult to diagnose and treat than other forms of heart disease, and may require specialized care.
Advocate for Women’s Heart Health Today & Every Day
Heart disease is a major health issue for Canadian women.
By understanding the risks of heart disease, encouraging women, and being advocates for advancements in women’s heart health, you can help protect the hearts of the important women in your life so they live longer, healthier lives.
Happy International Women’s Day!
Protect the women in your life every day by purchasing an AED for your home today.