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More understanding needed when it comes to heart disease in women says cardiologist

Dr. Sharon Mulvagh said, despite heart disease being the leading cause of premature death for Canadian women, less than one-third of research is devoted to women
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A local cardiologist says Canada's health care systems need to recognize the differences between men and women when it comes to heart health.

Dr. Sharon Mulvagh with the Maritime Heart Centre's Women's Heart Health Clinic said, despite heart disease being the leading cause of premature death for Canadian women, less than one-third of research is devoted to women.

"We've not recognized before that women's hearts are not exactly the same as men's, they're a little more complicated," she told NEWS 95.7's The Sheldon MacLeod Show. "We have reproductive cycles, and biological and physiological differences."

A report released earlier this month by the Heart and Stroke Foundation says women are unnecessarily suffering and dying.

"When it comes to heart disease, women are under-researched, under-diagnosed and under-treated, under-supported and under-aware," says the report entitled "Ms. Understood."

Mulvagh said risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, obesity and lack of physical activity contribute to heart disease in both men and women, but the impact can be more severe in women.

"A woman who smokes is twice as likely to have a heart attack than a man, a diabetic woman is two to four times as likely to have a heart attack than a man," she explained. 

She believes more funding for female-focused research is needed, along with policy changes in Canadian medical schools.

"Our health care systems must to catch up with the new evidence that women's hearts are different...and they require sex-specific diagnosis, treatment and research."

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, angiograms detect heart disease in the major coronary arteries where it's most often found in men, however heart disease in women is more likely found in the small vessels not covered by the standard diagnostic tool.

They add the early signs of a heart attack, including shortness of breath, weakness, fatigue and dizziness, were missed in 78 per cent of women.




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