Women are dying unnecessarily because we don’t fully understand the difference between women’s and men’s hearts and brains.
Heart disease and stroke are the #1 cause of premature death for women.
Women are not small men — yet two-thirds of clinical research is based on men. Women’s hearts and brains are different, and we can’t expect doctors and other healthcare professionals to recognize all the symptoms of heart disease and stroke in women until the research does.
This research gap has a real impact on real women. Measha Brueggergosman is one of them. The Canadian opera star almost died from heart disease — twice. Her story and those of other women show why we need to act.
I didn’t know it but I was hemorrhaging.
What we need to learn
The research gap means we lack critical information about the impact of differences between women’s and men’s hearts and brains. For example:
Women’s hearts and arteries are smaller, and plaque builds in different ways.
Women may show different symptoms of heart attack.
Women may experience different symptoms with a TIA (mini-stroke).
We also need to understand why some conditions have more impact on women:
Last year, 45% more women than men died of stroke in Canada.
Women who have had a stroke have worse outcomes than men; they experience lower levels of mental and physical well-being.
Heart attacks are more deadly for women, and women are more likely than men to suffer a second heart attack.
Some tests are less sensitive to the type of heart disease many women have.
Finally, some risks are specific to women’s bodies and lives. For example:
- Pregnancy, menopause and hormonal changes affect women’s risk.
- Gender-based differences such as lower socio-economic status also impact women’s health.
Turning anger into action
Heart and Stroke is on a mission to close the research gap and save more women’s lives with better diagnosis and treatment.
The Heart & Stroke Women’s Research Initiative has already funded 15 researchers to specifically study women’s heart and brains. Here are just a few:
Dr. Margie Davenport showed how women can reduce cardiovascular risks during pregnancy.
Dr. Jacqueline Saw is investigating a condition that puts healthy women at risk of heart attack.
Dr. Heather Foulds is studying the impact of social and cultural factors on the increased heart disease and stroke risk faced by Indigenous women.
In addition, Heart & Stroke has:
- Mandated that all our funded research consider sex- and gender-based analysis and reporting. We expect to be at 100% by the end of the year.
- Funded a national research network of scientists, people with lived experience of heart disease and stroke to advance knowledge about women’s heart and brain health.