Nearly 40 per cent of Canadians are unaware that heart disease and stroke are the leading cause of premature death in women, according to a report from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.
Kicking off Heart Month, the organization released a report based on national polling data on Wednesday detailing gaps in awareness, research, diagnosis and care that threaten women’s heart and brain health.
In an alarming statistic, heart disease and stroke claimed the lives of 32,271 women in Canada in 2019, which accounts for one woman’s death every 16 minutes.
“Our traditional teachings of how a heart attack presents is based on studies that looked at Caucasian males,” Dr. Inderveer Mahal said in the report. “We know that ethnic minorities and females can present with a heart attack very differently.”
Women who experience stroke are at higher risk of dying than men, and if they survive, their outcomes are worse.
Most women in Canada have at least one risk factor for heart disease and stroke, though only 11 per cent of Canadian women could name a risk factor.
Half of women who experienced a heart attack have their symptoms go unrecognized, and are more likely than men to die in the year following the heart attack.
“As doctors we need to be respectful, be proactive, give them the respect all patients deserve and remember that often they have had multiple negative experiences with the healthcare system,” Mahal said in the report.
Michelle Logeot is a woman living with heart disease.
“I was misdiagnosed so many times,” she said in the report. “I was told I had anxiety, depression, menopause, a cold, flu, pneumonia, a prolapsed vagina, kidney stones.”
Certain types of heart conditions are more common in women, and women can be impacted differently by heart disease and stroke.
Women face distinct risk factors for heart disease and stroke, especially at different points in their lives, such as pregnancy and menopause.
Indigenous people in Canada are more likely to be at risk for or are currently living with heart disease and stroke compared to the general population.
“There has been a push to start closing some of these sex and gender gaps in stroke and cardiovascular health,” Heart and Stroke funded researcher Dr. Kara Nerenberg said in the report. “I think we still have a really long way to go.”
Statistics Canada said 67,399 Canadians died from heart disease or stroke in 2020. Heart disease (53,704) was the second leading cause of death in Canada after cancer, and stroke (13,695) was the fifth leading cause of death.