Treating women’s heart ills

Gender-based techniques get tryout in major study at the Vic

by Erin Girouard

When we think about the health risks we face, a heart attack may not immediately come to mind. But heart attacks are the leading cause of death for women over age 55. According to the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada, the Manitoba death rate is even higher than the Canadian average.

Many women are still dangerously unaware of the symptoms of heart disease. The early indicators of heart disease include unusual fatigue, sleep disturbance, anxiety (feeling of impending doom), shortness of breath, frequency of indigestion, heart racing, new vision problems, loss of appetite and arm tingling/numbness.

A range of symptoms
Similar to men, the most common symptoms for women experiencing a heart attack are chest pain or discomfort such as uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the centre of the chest. However, women are more likely than men to experience a wider range of symptoms, such as:

  • shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort
  • shoulder blade pain or pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • hot flush/cold sweat
  • nausea/vomiting
  • dizziness
  • unusual fatigue or weakness

According to Statistics Canada, a heart attack strikes someone in Canada about once every seven minutes. It occurs when blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely. This reduced flow occurs because the arteries that supply the heart are gradually narrowed through a build-up of fat, cholesterol and other substances (plaque).

Women have smaller arteries than men, and these are more prone to blood clots and plaque blockages. Estrogen is thought to protect the hearts of young women, and the drop in estrogen that occurs with menopause can result in increased risk of heart disease.

An innovative new program at Victoria General Hospital, For Her Heart’s Sake, will look beyond the traditional focus of women’s health on reproduction to provide individualized care for women based on unique gender characteristics. In partnership with Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s cardiac sciences program, For Her Heart’s Sake will focus on women who are living with the symptoms of chronic heart disease.

Promises high-quality care
The program will be developed as an applied research project and modeled after the acclaimed interdisciplinary team approach of the Vic’s Mature Women’s Centre. It will ensure this group of women receives the highest quality of patient care by providing them with one-on-one support and a personalized plan designed to help them live longer and healthier lives.

The hospital’s Victoria Institute of Clinical Research & Evaluation will be collaborating in the project along with various faculties from the University of Manitoba to assess the outcomes and effectiveness of this approach on an ongoing basis. The program is scheduled to begin this fall.

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