Sex and gender differences and COVID-19

A webinar on sex and gender differences in the risk management of COVID-19

This webinar offers an overview of COVID-19 and information about sex and gender differences in preventing and managing the disease.

COVID-19 is impacting men and women differently. Sex and gender affect your risk of developing COVID-19 and the severity of your experience with the disease.

This webinar offers a timely overview of COVID-19 and answers questions and concerns about how to prevent and manage the disease. Listen to the perspectives of people with lived experience, researchers and health professionals.

Related information

Spotlight 2020: Research is starting to close the sex and gender gap.


Key messages from our speakers
Nicole Nickerson, a woman with lived experience of heart disease +

Nicole shared the following ways she manages her heart disease and well-being during COVID-19:

  • Stay in contact with your healthcare team and peers going through similar experiences. Heart & Stroke’s Community of Survivors is a helpful peer support resource.
  • Do not stop taking your medications unless you have spoken with your doctor.
  • Try to maintain healthy eating habits and stay active—but it’s ok if you have an off day.
  • Take time and rest for yourself; especially for the women who are mothers and working in essential services. We are trying to manage so much so we need to take care of ourselves too.
  • Don’t believe everything you read on the internet, Heart & Stroke and the Ottawa Heart Institute are two reliable sources where I get my information.
  • Listen to your body, go get checked out if you think something is wrong. Call 9-1-1 if you are having a heart attack or stroke—do not delay.

Nicole’s strategies for managing with having a family based in healthcare or an essential service:

  • Plan ahead in case of quarantine, or in case of another heart attack or stroke.
  • Have all your contact and medical information handy on your cell phone or near a home phone so people can easily access all the necessary information. 
  • Don’t be scared to ask for help. Stay virtually connected to your friends and family.
  • Stay up to date on emerging information around COVID-19.

Tips Nicole uses for talking to her children about COVID-19:

  • Being honest with the kids and sharing information as I learn of it myself.
  • Using available resources and taking the time to teach the kids about the importance of hand washing, health eating, etc.
  • Understanding and acknowledging their feelings of fear, frustration, etc.

Nicole Nickerson lives in Middle LaHave, NS.

Dr. Colleen Norris, researcher +

Dr. Norris defined sex and gender for the audience.

Sex refers to the biological construct; talking about male or female-anatomy and physiology, and the expression of genes and hormones. A person’s sex does affect their healthcare treatment.

Gender is a social construct. It is how you identify yourself based on a spectrum of feminine and masculine traits. It is linked to power, economic and social status—and it is culturally specific.

  • Research shows that there are differences in the male and female immune systems and response.
    • Gender influences also affect the pattern of exposure—it determines where men and women are spending their time, the infections they contract, as well as the nature of exposure and its frequency. 
  • Women are balancing multiple responsibilities, and many do not have a safety net. This can be especially challenging during COVID-19. Low income women who work part-time are less likely to also have work benefits including sick leave.
  • Recent studies are reporting more women are feeling negative mental health effects from worrying about COVID-19. Dr. Norris advises that women’s stress management and self-care is more important than ever right now. 
    • She recommends managing stress by maintaining healthy habits such as staying active, continuing hobbies, participating in spiritual activities, and keeping in contact with your social network via phone or video chat.
  • The signs of a heart attack in women include: chest discomfort, headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, flu-like symptoms, increased sweating, and nausea. If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these signs call 9-1-1 immediately.
    • Do not be afraid to come to the hospital in the event of a heart attack or stroke. If you are experiencing symptoms of heart attack or stroke, you absolutely need medical attention as soon as possible.

Dr. Colleen Norris of Edmonton is the Scientific Director of the Cardiovascular and Stroke Strategic Clinical Network with a Sex and Gender Lens.

Dr. Thalia Field, stroke neurologist +

Dr. Field provided the following tips for women living with heart and stroke conditions during COVID-19:

  • An emergency is still an emergency. Please call 9-1-1 if you think you might be having a heart attack or stroke.
  • Be familiar with your medical history, and medications. Keep this information in writing and have it on hand.
  • Ask your health care providers if you are you able to connect with them via virtual appointments, or are there online resources you can access during this time?
  • Try to continue healthy behaviours: keep active, follow a smoking cessation program, try to eat healthier, and maintain a healthy weight. Is there peer support that can help you in these areas?
  • Try to be prepared in knowing what is needed for your care, ask your health care professionals and advocate for yourself. Do not assume appointments will be automatically rescheduled.

Dr. Thalia Field is a stroke neurologist at the Vancouver Stroke Program

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