When I hear the words ‘heart attack’ I automatically think of a man. Not necessarily an older man, because young men (in their 30s and 40s) in my family have had heart attacks. And my father-in-law died suddenly from coronary artery disease just after his 65th birthday. But still…I don’t instantly think of my female second cousin who suffered a heart attack years ago. Or even the women in my family who are on cholesterol-lowering medication. It wasn’t until I read the Heart & Stroke 2018 Heart Report, released at the beginning of this month, that I asked myself, “Why not? Why don’t we think about women’s heart health?”

The conversation needs to begin with research; two thirds of heart disease clinical research focuses on men and is then applied to the entire population. But not all hearts are created equal, and there are significant differences between the sexes. This means, we don’t have enough information about our leading cause of death. As a result, women’s heart health is under-researched, under-diagnosed, under-treated and under-supported. Ladies, it’s not great news. According to Yves Savoie, CEO of Heart & Stroke, “Women’s hearts are still misunderstood. We are decades behind in our knowledge of the differences between men’s and women’s hearts.”

I am sharing this information with you because when I learned about it, it shocked me. I honestly had no idea of this discrepancy, or that women’s hearts are different from men’s. I just assumed that when I or my female relatives go see the doctor about our health concerns, our sex was taken into account and we were treated differently. It makes sense to me now, after reading the report, that women’s heart health is unique subject matter. But the diagnostic tests we take (like the treadmill test) are not nearly sensitive enough to detect issues in women. And when we do require treatment after a heart attack, less than 1/3 of us receive it within time guidelines.

I have heart disease on both sides of my family; as a South Asian Canadian this is not surprising. According to the recent report, South Asian, Chinese and Afro-Caribbean women have higher rates of heart disease and poorer outcomes compared to Caucasian Canadians. As well, Indigenous women in Canada are twice as likely to develop coronary artery disease.

This is all super grim, I realize, but as a woman I feel like I need to know this. It’s only by learning these statistics, hearing stories shared by women who have lived through these experiences and heeding their advice can I continue to advocate for my best health.

Some Facts About Canadian Women’s Heart Health

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of premature death for Canadian women.
  • Every 20 minutes a woman in Canada dies of heart disease.
  • 5 times more women die from heart disease than breast cancer.
  • Early heart attack signs were missed in 78% of women.
  • Women who have a heart attack are more likely to suffer or die from a second heart attack than men.

The report covers a lot more and I encourage you to look at it. Knowledge is always power.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m approaching 40 but I’m thinking about my health in a different way than I have in the past. It’s a good thing, though. I know it’s not 100% in my hands but I can at least try for optimal health.

I’m going to be focusing on specific areas and sharing my journey in different ways with you.

4 Healthy Lifestyle Choices I Am Focusing On

  • Eating well
  • Moving
  • Reducing stress
  • Maintaining a healthy weight

What are some of your health goals? Ladies, how are you keeping your heart in top shape? Please share with me in the comments!

taslim jaffer writer