Health care workers were wearing red on Friday to help shine a spotlight on heart disease in women.
The Misericordia Hospital was offering blood pressure tests and smoking cessation clinics as well as information on the disease — which is the number one killer in women.
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“One of the main things is how common it is,” cardiologist Dr. Sayra Khandekar said. “What people don’t realize is heart disease kills more women than cancer, five times more women than breast cancer. One woman every 20 minutes will die of heart disease.
“One in every five women will die of heart disease.”
Heart disease is more common in women than previously thought and symptoms appear differently than they do in men.
“Everything we know about heart disease — how it develops, how we diagnose it, how we treat it — is based on studies that were done in men,” Khandekar explained. “Men and women are different.
“Up until the 1990s, women were actually not allowed to be in clinical trials because they were concerned about including women that were of reproductive age,” she said. “It was only in the 1990s and afterwards that Health Canada allowed women to participate in studies.”
Khandekar says more time and resources should be devoted to studying heart disease in women — how it manifests, how plaque develops in women’s arteries, how the symptoms present.
“We know that women are less likely to have that clutching central chest pain that men do. They’re more likely to have symptoms like shortness of breath, feeling fatigue, a sensation that something is not quite right, heartburn — things that you wouldn’t necessarily think are your heart.”
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As part of the Misericordia’s Wear Red Day, people could write the name of someone close to them affected by heart disease on a red heart and hang it in the hospital.
Staff hope Wear Red Day will bring awareness to this disease in women and hopefully, save lives.
“If you’ve noticed that you’re not able to do what you could do a few months ago… if you don’t have the energy to do that for some reason — you’re getting short of breath, you just don’t feel like you have the fuel to do what it is you need to do — there is much less harm in getting checked out and being told, ‘No, you’re actually OK’ rather than not getting checked out and then having problems with permanent heart damage later on,” Khandekar said.
She said women need to be comfortable having honest discussions with their family doctors about what symptoms they have and why they’re concerned.
“The onus isn’t just on the woman to say, ‘Hey, there’s something wrong with me.’ The onus is on the medical system, the health care professionals, medical education, and health research to really put more weight into understanding how to adequately treat women with heart disease.”