The report by Heart & Stroke says women are screened, diagnosed and treated differently from men when it comes to heart disease. (Heart & Stroke)

Women dying of heart disease unnecessarily: report

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The advocacy group, Heart & Stroke, says too many women are unnecessarily suffering and dying from heart disease in Canada. It adds “they have been left behind because they are under-researched, under-diagnosed and under-treated, and under-supported during recovery.” And not enough is known about the differences between men’s and women’s hearts.

Women suffering heart attacks more likely to die

Heart disease is the leading cause of premature death for women in Canada, according to the Heart & Stroke 2018 Heart Report. Among its salient points:

Early heart attack signs were missed in 78 per cent of women.

Every 20 minutes, a woman in Canada dies from heart disease.

Two-thirds of heart disease clinical research focuses on men.

Women who have a heart attack are more likely to die or suffer a second heart attack compared to men.

Heart disease is not treated as aggressively in women as it is in men, says Prof. Sherry Grace.

Women too busy to focus on health

The problem has links to science, health care, and a lack of awareness in women themselves.

“They often don’t prioritize their own health,” says Prof. Sherry Grace of York University and director of research for cardiac rehabilitation at the University Health Network. “Women are engaged in multiple roles. We have very busy lives and we need to prioritize ourselves.” Heart & Stroke says families, workplaces and healthcare providers should understand and support them.

Prof. Sherry Grace says there are many differences between heart disease in women and in men.

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Women urged to look at risks

Grace says many Canadian women are worried about breast cancer but they need to understand that they are five times more likely to die from heart disease. To reduce their risk they should speak to their doctors and look at factors like quitting smoking, having a healthy body weight, being physically active, having a healthy blood pressure, having a healthy, balanced diet and using medication if necessary to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Health care providers need training, say advocates

Studies show that heart disease in women is less well diagnosed. Like men, women may experience warning signs like chest pain and pressure, but they may have other symptoms they and doctors may not realize are linked to heart attack such as indigestion, nausea, light-headedness, pain in the jaw, arm or back.

Often heart disease in women is not treated as aggressively as it is in men. There is less surgery and less rehabilitation. Grace says health care providers need training to ensure the treatment of men and women is equitable.

Research is improving

She says progress is being made in science in that many research agencies are now insisting that studies include women and that results on them be reported separately.

Improvements will not only reduce the risk of death from heart disease in women, but Grace says it will reduce costs to the health care system by avoiding repeat hospitalizations and heart surgeries.

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