Each year, Dr. Tara Sedlak, Director of the Leslie Diamond Women's Heart Health Clinic at Vancouver General Hospital, encourages Canadians to break out their favourite scarlet shirts and cherry cardigans in support of Wear Red Canada Day on February 13 – a movement that aims to raise awareness about women's heart health.
Dr. Sedlak, who leads the advocacy committee for the Canadian Women's Heart Health Alliance, hopes that by wearing red, people will spark conversations with their friends, family and colleagues about women's heart health.
According to Dr. Sedlak, it is long past time for women to know the facts about heart disease.
"I want people to know that women's hearts are different than men's, and their risk factors and symptoms are not the same," said Dr. Sedlak. "Heart disease is the number one cause of premature and preventable death for women. Less than half of Canadian women know this."
To help spread the message, the Province of British Columbia and the cities of Vancouver, Richmond, Victoria, Saanich and Kelowna have all issued proclamations declaring February 13 Wear Red Canada Day.
Women have several risk factors that men don't. In addition to genetic factors, stress and cholesterol, the hormonal changes women experience throughout their lifetime can play a role. Early menopause and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can increase risk for heart disease. Pregnancy can also lead to higher risk in women who experience prenatal high blood pressure and gestational diabetes.
Inflammation has also been found to be a risk factor in women. Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, which are more commonly diagnosed in women, can double the risk for heart disease.
Women experience different heart attack symptoms than men.
Women having a heart attack may have:
If symptoms are persistent, severe or worrisome, call 9-1-1.
Tests do not always detect the cause of heart attacks in women.
Ten per cent of the causes of women's heart attacks are not detected by standard heart-attack tests such as angiograms.
Dr. Sedlak also suggests making heart health part of your overall check-up routine after age 40, in addition to regular pap tests and mammograms. Ask to have your cholesterol monitored and your heart checked. If you suspect something wrong, speak to your doctor.
"Pay attention to your body. Listen to that voice in your head telling you something isn't right," said Dr. Sedlak. "It's really important that women develop a good relationship with their doctor and advocate for themselves."
Wear red this February 13 and join the conversation on women's heart health on social media using #HerHeartMatters. Learn more about Wear Red Canada Day and the advocacy work of Dr. Sedlak and colleagues by visiting wearredcanada.ca.