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Better understanding women’s heart health could save a life: N.S. cardiologist

A new report by the Heart and Stroke Foundation says there is a lack of awareness and understanding around women’s heart and brain health.

Dr. Sharon Mulvagh, a cardiologist for Nova Scotia Health and a professor of medicine at Dalhousie University, says there’s a “huge gap” in understanding how cardiovascular diseases impact men and women differently.

“For many women, these gaps are also compounded by the intersecting and overlapping factors that can add to their risk,” Mulvagh tells CTV Atlantic.

Those factors include:

  • race and ethnicity
  • indigeneity
  • socio-economic status
  • sexual orientation
  • geography
  • body size
  • disability

Mulvagh noted that women are 20 per cent more likely to die of heart failure and 32 per cent more likely to die of stroke than men.

The report found just 11 per cent of women in Canada can name one or more of women’s specific risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

When it comes to risk factors, Mulvagh noted most of them are the same for men and women, including:

  • smoking
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • high cholesterol

“A smoking woman or a diabetic woman is two to three times more likely than a man who does the same or has the same,” said Mulvagh.

Just because the risk factors are similar, Mulvagh warns, doesn’t mean women aren’t facing unique cardiovascular risk factors of their own.

Calling pregnancy a bit of a “stress test,” Mulvagh pointed out 10 per cent of women will develop preeclampsia or gestational diabetes while pregnant.

“These are harbingers of an increased risk over time,” she said, adding women with these problems during pregnancy can end up with heart disease in roughly 15 years, rather than after menopause like most women.

“After menopause, we catch up to the men in incidents of heart disease as well because we’re no longer protected by our own production of our own hormones,” said Mulvagh.

She says being aware of cardiovascular risk factors can help save your life. For Mulvagh, that starts with:

  • going to your doctor
  • knowing your blood pressure
  • knowing your cholesterol level
  • knowing what your blood sugar is
  • having a healthy weight
  • having good nutrition
  • maintaining activity (exercise)
  • not smoking

Monday marks the sixth year of celebrating Wear Red Day in Halifax. The event started in the city in 2018 before becoming national through the Canadian Women’s Heart Health Alliance in 2019.

Not only does Wear Red Day promote women’s heart health, it also features an event at the Halifax Infirmary to learn about CPR, healthy rehab and stroke rehabilitation.

Wear Red Day has been proclaimed by Halifax Mayor Mike Savage, Lunenburg Mayor Matt Risser and Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston. Top Stories

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