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Know any women? Then you need to know this.

Heart disease hits women harder than it does men. But there’s hope for closing the gender gap. Here are the facts.
Woman holding red plush heart in front of her chest

Heart disease and stroke is the number one killer of women around the world, accounting for more deaths every year than all cancers combined

Surprised? There’s more.

  • Heart disease and stroke are a leading cause of death among women in Canada, claiming 33,000 lives each year.
  • Women are 16 per cent more likely than men to die after a heart attack.
  • That number rises to 50 per cent if you just look at the first year following a heart attack.
  • In Canada, stroke kills 36 per cent more women than men.
  • Nine in 10 Canadian women have at least one significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
  • Many women are unaware of these risks and how to manage them.
  • Many women ignore their symptoms until it’s too late.
  • Women can reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke by as much as 80 per cent by managing risk factors, which include eating a healthy diet, being physically active, being smoke-free, limiting alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing stress.

Why does this heart health gender gap persist? And how can we do a better job of preventing, diagnosing and treating heart disease in women?

Those questions brought about 175 researchers and other experts together in Ottawa last week for the first Canadian Women’s Heart Health Summit, co-hosted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the University of Ottawa Heart Institute’s Canadian Women’s Heart Health Centre.

Through presentations, discussion and debate, they shared the latest research and called for strategies to reduce these sex and gender disparities and to transform and save women’s lives through research, awareness and evidence-based care.

The good news

Research could change how we prevent, diagnose and treat heart disease in women. Here are some studies funded by Heart and Stroke Foundation donors:

  • The GENESIS project is looking to address if women experience heart disease and stroke differently than men. The study, led by Dr. Louise Pilote, examines the role of genetics and environmental factors when it comes to heart disease.
  • Cardiac rehabilitation is a proven way to reduce heart disease. However, in Canada, only half as many women participate in cardiac rehab as men. Dr. Sherry Grace is identifying the types of cardiac rehab programs that will lead to higher participation rates and reduce women’s heart disease risk.
  • Cardiac rehab programs are successful in getting patients into regular physical activity. However, only 38-56 per cent of participants are getting a recommended amount of exercise one year later. The challenge is even greater among women, who report lower activity levels than men both during and after the program. Dr. Robert Reid’s research looks at strategies that will help patients make a smooth transition from cardiac rehab programs to exercise in their own homes or communities.
  • Many men and women recover from heart disease differently. Dr. Susanna Mak’s research looks at how physical differences such as heart shape and size may play a part in how women recover from heart attack and the treatments they receive.

These studies hold promise for improving women’s heart health. Even more encouraging, the 2016 federal budget included an investment of $5 million over five years to the Heart and Stroke Foundation to support targeted research on women’s heart health and to promote collaboration between research institutions across the country.

The Foundation is developing a women’s heart health strategy which aims to reduce the rates of death and disability for Canadian women, improving health equity through research, raising awareness, early detection screening clinics, advocacy for health system change, and survivor support.

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