Heart disease and strokes—they’re a woman’s No.1 health risk in Canada

Myrna Driedger Broadway Journal
Myrna Driedger
Broadway Journal

Unless they have been personally affected by heart disease I would bet most people are unaware that heart disease and strokes are the number one killer of women in Canada. The perception, even among women, is still that these are “a man’s health risk”.

Women themselves believe breast cancer is the greatest health risk, yet women are six times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than from breast cancer. In fact, the  Women’s College Hospital in Toronto has reported that heart disease kills more Canadian women 65 years of age and older than all cancers combined.

Also known as a "brain attack", during a stroke, brain cells begin to die once their is interruption to an area of the brain.
Also known as a “brain attack”, during a stroke, brain cells begin to die once there is interruption to an area of the brain.

Gap closes between the sexes

Females have made a lot of progress on the medical front in the last few decades but when it comes to cardiovascular disease, they have not kept pace with men in managing to survive a heart ailment.  In 1973 there were 23 per cent fewer female deaths than male deaths.  By 2003 the number of male deaths had fallen (by 19 per cent to 37,004), while the number of female deaths increased (by five per cent to 36,823).  For the first time, the number of deaths from heart disease and stroke combined is virtually the same between men and women.

Compared to a man, a woman is at higher risk than is a man of dying following a heart attack or stroke. Women are less likely to be treated by a specialist, which is the key to survival. Given age and other conditions, the risk of dying is 47 per cent lower for patients treated by a cardiologist, says the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada’s 2007 Report Card on Canadians’ Heart Health.

Women have learned to stand up and be heard when it comes to education, career choices, and family matters, yet when it comes to seeking medical attention for symptoms of heart disease and strokes we stall. Making the situation worse, reports Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital, doctors do not always recognize a woman’s symptoms as symptoms of heart disease.

It is also important to note that  if one is a diabetic the most serious complication that could arise is heart disease, and being female lowers your survival rate. So reports the United States-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Know the warning signs

Please do yourself and your family a favour by, first, understanding your risk factors and secondly being aware of the symptoms of a heart attack. Chest pain is number one, but not all women experience pain or discomfort.

Other symptoms can include unusual fatigue that gets worse with activity, difficulty breathing, heartburn that is not alleviated by antacids, anxiety, nausea, paleness, sweating, tightening in chest that may or may not extend into the neck, jaws and shoulders.

We all want to maintain a long and healthy life. We need to be knowledgeable of the risk factors for heart disease and strokes, recognize any of the warning signs and be diligent about seeking a diagnosis with our doctors.

This is not a time to procrastinate or be timid about your concerns.  You wouldn’t let your loved one put off seeing a doctor, so why put it off for yourself?

Myrna Driedger is MLA for Charleswood and deputy leader of the provincial Conservative party.

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