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It’s time to transform women’s heart and brain health

Sex and gender blinders have caused too many women’s lives to be cut short.

Heart disease and stroke are the leading cause of premature death for women in Canada. The evidence is clear: women continue to be under-researched, under-diagnosed, under-treated, under-supported and under-aware of their risks. As a result, they’re over-dying.

Heart & Stroke is on a mission to make positive changes in women’s heart and brain health, starting with our powerful new campaign, #TimeToSeeRed. And that’s just the beginning. Read on for six key goals we’re working towards. 

Key goal #1: Encourage and invest in research for and about women

Two thirds of heart disease and stroke clinical research focuses on men, and as a result there is much we still need to learn about the impact of women’s physiology and hormonal changes on risks and treatment. To end all these "unders," we must start by understanding why and how women’s hearts and brains are different from men's. 

The emerging Women’s Heart and Brain Health Research Network is a real-world example of researchers, policy makers, clinicians, early career scientists and people with lived experience coming together collaboratively to share knowledge and advance sex and gender based analysis and reporting.

How do we do this? 
To stop women from dying unnecessarily, Heart & Stroke is doubling the dollars we invest in research for women.

We're also advancing sex and gender-based analysis & reporting in Heart & Stroke funded research, to ensure women are equitably represented. 

Two new studies to support women’s heart health research 

Heart & Stroke is funding two studies through the inaugural Advancing Women’s Heart and Brain Health initiative, part of the federal government’s $5 million investment to Heart & Stroke in support of women’s heart and brain health research.

 

Study #1: Protecting pregnant women’s hearts. 

Pregnancy is a stress test for life and can predict the future development of cardiovascular disease. Dr. Margie Davenport’s research at the University of Alberta aims to understand how risk factors identified during pregnancy can be modified by increasing physical activity and reducing inactive behaviours. 

“Our goal is to improve the lifelong health of pregnant women and their babies,” says Dr. Davenport. “We will develop new knowledge in the area of pregnancy-related cardiometabolic health, implement programs to promote the health of mothers and their children, and develop policy to guide healthcare providers.”

Read more about this research.

Study #2: Uncovering the mystery of SCAD

Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) is a poorly understood, often under-diagnosed and under-treated emergency condition. It puts healthy women at risk of heart attack. Dr. Jacqueline Saw, Heart & Stroke’s Advancing Women’s Heart Health researcher at the University of British Columbia, is determined to discover why and how to prevent it.  

Read more about this research. 

 

SCAD accounts for 25% of all heart attacks in women under the age of 60. 

Dr. Jacqueline Saw 

Key goal #2: Mobilize Canadians to take action in support of better women’s heart and brain health.

Policies, regulations and legislation can all be enhanced to better support women’s heart and brain health. Heart & Stroke is building strategies to influence federal and provincial governments and create the conditions necessary for all women in Canada to live healthy lives free of heart disease and stroke.

How are we going to make this happen? 
  • By identifying policy opportunities to enhance women’s health outcomes through programs and system changes
  • By increasing awareness of the factors that affect women’s heart and brain health and advocating for those at greater risk of heart disease and stroke
  • By identifying innovative tools that enable women to engage and take personal action to advance healthy public policy 
  • By developing collaboration agreements with Indigenous organizations and identifying ways to support their health advocacy agendas
Key goal #3: Partner with system leaders, healthcare providers and people with lived experience to improve women’s diagnosis and treatment.  

We are all part of the solution to end under-diagnosed and under-treated heart and brain conditions in women. 

The medical community is our biggest ally, and we need to work with them to update clinical guidelines and diagnostic procedures and therapies to recognize sex and gender differences. Together, we can ensure the continual improvement and education of healthcare professionals to provide better diagnosis and treatment for women. 

Key goal #4: Increase awareness of women’s heart and brain health and influence social norms.

Although many women have some knowledge that heart disease and stroke can affect them, too many don’t know their level of risk. Women are their own best advocates, and we need to embolden them to learn the signs and symptoms, manage risks proactively, and overcome existing health inequities.

Heart & Stroke is standing up for women’s heart and brain health equity. With our bold #TimeToSeeRed campaign, we are making a commitment for change so we can end once and for all, the under-research, the under-awareness, under-diagnosis and under-treatment of women.

Key goal #5: Facilitate support and connections between women with lived experience, and their care partners.

Let’s put an end to under-supported.

After living through a life-altering health event like a stroke or heart attack, women and their care partners need to feel supported to improve their recovery and quality of life.

By creating a forum where survivors and their care partners can share their stories, offer support to others going through similar circumstances and feel a little less alone, we are empowering women to live their best lives after an acute heart or brain event and to help influence the system we’re all working to improve.

Join our community of survivors and care partners on Facebook

Key goal #6: Prioritize health reconciliation to help close the gap in Indigenous and ethnically diverse women’s health.

Coronary heart disease, which can lead to heart attack, is responsible for a 53% higher death rate in Indigenous women compared to non-Indigenous women. Access to diagnosis, treatment and supports is a major issue. Poverty, education, access to affordable food and water and unsafe living conditions have created a widening health gap. 

We are working with Indigenous organizations to support and advocate for critical priorities for Indigenous women as identified by Indigenous people. 

We also continue to develop the Heart & Stroke Partners Roundtable on Reconciliation to facilitate collaboration of health and Indigenous partners to build on joint strengths to address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action.

 

Are you at risk for heart disease and stroke?

Know your risk. 


Life. We don