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Heart Disease In Women

Heart disease and stroke is the number one killer of women in Canada. Unfortunately, more than half of women experiencing a heart attack present with symptoms that go unrecognized. A reason for this is because 2/3 of clinical studies done on heart disease and strokes are primarily male studies, meaning that the test subjects are male ( As a result of this gender bias, many women are undiagnosed, undertreated and unaware of the risks.

Heart disease and cardiovascular disease are often used interchangeably. It includes diseases of the heart and blood vessels, abnormal heartbeats, also called arrhythmias, and heart defects you are born with. (

Atherosclerosis is arteries that become blocked due to buildup (plaque) on the inside of the channels. Think of your arteries like your kitchen sink drain pipes. When the pipes are clean, water flows down the drain without problems. However, if you were to pour oil (plaque) down the drain (arteries) time and time again, eventually the oil will solidify and start to build up. Over time, the pipes (arteries) will become blocked. When your arteries are blocked, blood can no longer be pumped effectively to your heart and as a result, you experience a heart attack.

Symptoms of a heart attack vary from individual to individual. These symptoms also vary from male to female. The most common symptoms in men are shortness of breath, chest pain/tightness, pain or numbness in extremities (hands, arms, feet and legs), pain in the neck, jaw, upper back and abdomen ( However, for women chest pain, chest tightness or blood pressure are not necessarily the most common symptoms, which is why so many cases of heart attacks in women go undetected. Symptoms also include:

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Sweating

  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy

  • Unusual fatigue

  • Indigestion.

If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 as soon as possible. Risk factors for heart disease in women also vary from men.

  • Mental stress and depression- stress affects female bodies differently from male bodies. Depression causes a low mood and problems caring for yourself and difficulty making healthy choices.

  • Smoking – affects female bodies differently than men

  • Menopause – fluctuations in hormones can increase your risk to develop disease in your arteries

  • Pregnancy complications – the factors include the development of gestational diabetes, high blood pressure during pregnancy or preeclampsia

  • Family history of early heart disease is showing to be more of a risk factor for women versus men. (

  • Women of Indigenous, South Asian, Chinese and African Caribbean descent are at an increased rate of heart disease and poorer outcomes compared to Caucasian Canadians.(

To decrease your risk of developing the cardiovascular disease the best time to start is right now. There are many things we can do every day.

  • Weight management – having a healthy Body Weight Index (BMI) is important to decrease your risk of developing a multitude of diseases, not just heart disease. A BMI below 18.5 is considered underweight, 18.5 to 25 is normal, 25 to 30 is overweight and 30 and over is obese. In order to figure out your own BMI, you can use one of the following formulas:

  1. Weight (in kg) ÷ height (m2) = BMI

  2. Weight (in lbs) × 703 ÷ height (inches squared) =BMI

    • Daily exercise, moderate exercise totalling 150 minutes/week or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. Wearable exercise trackers such as Fitbit and Garmin help to keep track of the amount of exercise you do per day (and week).

    • Be sure to consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise plan. Start slowly and work up to the recommended weekly amount if you are brand new to exercise. Sore muscles are common after physical activity but don’t give up.

    • Eat a healthy diet. Eating fresh foods such as vegetables and fruit (that do not come out of a package) is the best choice for your body. If you choose to eat meat, pick lean meats, preferably grass-fed.

    • Reduce alcohol consumption

    • Quit smoking – Easier than it sounds, smoking is an addiction that is tough to overcome. Your doctor can help you choose a smoking cessation program to accomplish this.

    • Follow recommendations made by your doctor – by following your treatment plan, you have the best chance of success to achieve the healthiest and best version of you.

Imagine Health is here to help you. If you have any questions or concerns, come see us today at one of our Edmonton or Calgary locations.

To read more about women and heart disease, please visit


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