A lifetime of risks: addressing women’s heart and brain health at every stage

New Heart & Stroke campaign supports awareness, assessment and action

Heart & Stroke has launched a multi-year awareness and education campaign to support women’s heart and brain health focused on risk factors across their unique life stages. Risk factors vary across women’s lives and continue to evolve, and some risk factors impact women differently than men or impact them disproportionately.

“There are risk factors for heart conditions and stroke that affect everyone, but we know that some can have stronger impacts in women, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and physical inactivity.” says Dr. Kara Nerenberg, Heart & Stroke women’s heart and brain health  research chair. “Women also face a suite of risk factors that can begin or intensity at different points in their lives such as during pregnancy or post-menopause.”

Compounding this is the fact that only 11% of women in Canada can name one or more of women’s specific risk factors for heart conditions and stroke*, which are the leading cause of premature death for women.

The campaign takes a life-stage approach focussing on three key periods in women’s lives: reproductive years due to factors such as contraception or pregnancy; menopause or midlife as estrogen levels fluctuate; and post-menopause when protective factors associated with estrogen are gone. Other risk factors that influence heart and brain health, some of which are specific to women, include polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), inflammatory and autoimmune disorders, breast cancer treatments and chronic kidney disease.

“Knowing awareness is low and wanting to meet women where they are, we created a digital hub organized by life stage,” says Dr. Christine Faubert, director, health equity and mission impact, Heart & Stroke. “Women will be empowered to become aware of their risks, encouraged to assess their own unique risks and supported to take action by speaking with others including their healthcare providers.”

The women’s digital hub includes practical information around modifiable, lifestyle related risk factors such as unhealthy diet and physical inactivity, non-modifiable risk factors such as age and family history, and medical risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as tips and resources including a self-assessment tool. 

An impactful campaign video features women with lived experience of heart conditions and stroke:

  • Actress Julie du Page’s heart arrythmia intensified after her second pregnancy and it was later corrected with surgery.
  • Singer-songwriter Shawnee Kish and her mother Lynne Marie Sherry who has high blood pressure which contributed to her experiencing a stroke after menopause.
  • Carissa Gravelle has been monitoring the high blood pressure she developed during her pregnancy.

“I had a type of arrhythmia, which is an irregular heartbeat, since I was a teenager, but it worsened after my second pregnancy, likely because of hormonal changes. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t exercise without feeling exhausted and short of breath,” says Julie du Page. “After a successful corrective surgery I cried tears of joy when, for the first time, I saw my heart beating regularly on the monitor.”

The women’s risk factor campaign is a key part of Heart & Stroke’s continued commitment to ensuring a world where all women receive the care they need when it comes to their heart and brain health. We will continue working with partners from all sectors taking an approach that ensures health equity and Indigenous wellbeing and drives change in three key areas: research, awareness and education and health system transformation.

This work was made possible with support from Heart & Stroke’s generous donors and our partner, TD, through its Ready Commitment program. 

*National, bilingual online/digital poll conducted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. Polling was carried out between December 3-31, 2021 by Environics Research Group of 3,291 Canadian residents 18 years and older drawn from online panels. The survey data were weighted by region, age, and gender to match census data.

About Heart & Stroke

Life. We don’t want you to miss it. That’s why Heart & Stroke has been leading the fight to beat heart disease and stroke for 70 years. We must generate the next medical breakthroughs, so Canadians don’t miss out on precious moments. Together, we are working to prevent disease, save lives and promote recovery through research, health promotion and public policy.  Heartandstroke.ca @HeartandStroke

Contact information

Jessica Weingarten