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February is Heart Month

Almost 16 years ago, my mom died from a heart attack.

The “typical” heart attack signs weren’t there for her. Because those signs are for men, not women. After she passed away and they had studied her heart, we were told that they believed she had had a series of smaller heart attacks leading up to the one that ultimately took her life. Although there were early signs, we just thought she was tired, weak, not feeling very well, and had the flu. However, it was much more serious than that, but we didn’t know. Had we known more about heart disease, she might still be alive today.

Last family photo – June 2000

The Heart and Stroke Foundation has designated February as Heart Month and they provide some wonderful stories and resources on their website including a report on women’s heart health.

Early heart attack signs were missed in 78% of women

From the Report

Too many women are unnecessarily suffering and dying from heart disease. They have been left behind because they are under-researched, under-diagnosed and under-treated, and under-supported during recovery. It is shocking we are only beginning to understand women’s hearts, and gains in knowledge are so slow to reach the bedside. What we do know highlights a stark reality:

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of premature death for women in Canada (dying before reaching their expected lifespan).
  • Early heart attack signs were missed in 78% of women.
  • Every 20 minutes a woman in Canada dies from heart disease.
  • Five times as many women die from heart disease as breast cancer.
  • Two-thirds of heart disease clinical research focuses on men.
  • Women who have a heart attack are more likely to die or suffer a second heart attack compared to men.

Read the full report here:

Here are some recommendations from the Heart and Stroke Foundation:

What Can Canadians Do?

It will take comprehensive commitment and action to correct the factors that have left women under-researched, under-diagnosed and under-treated, under-supported and under-aware.


  • All funders of health research including provincial/territorial and federal governments should invest in women’s heart health research, and in building capacity across all pillars including basic biomedical, clinical, health systems and population health.
  • All funders of health research should adopt policies which require that researchers collect, analyze and report data by sex, gender and race.
  • Funders and academic institutions should develop strategies to understand and overcome women’s hesitancy to participate in clinical trials.
  • All health research funders should work with academic institutions to remove barriers to the advancement and leadership of women and Indigenous scientists in research.
  • Indigenous researchers and Indigenous communities should identify unique issues facing Indigenous women and have the opportunity to work with non-Indigenous health researchers and others.

Under-diagnosed and under-treated

  • Provincial/territorial governments and healthcare systems should deliver personalized medicine (tailored to the individual patient based on their predicted response or risk of disease) and patient-oriented services, across the continuum of care, and should recognize Indigenous traditional medicine practices.
  • Healthcare systems, provincial/territorial and federal governments should generate linked health and social surveillance data and use it to drive quality improvement through better understanding of the health and social issues facing women in Canada.
  • Universities, including medical schools and continuing medical education, should deliver, as a prerequisite, training on sex and gender.
  • Healthcare institutions and systems should accelerate knowledge into treatment, so that newest technology is available to all women, across the country (e.g., new diagnostic imaging technology to diagnose small-vessel disease).
  • Healthcare systems should adopt/apply gender-neutral screening and risk assessment methodologies.


  • Healthcare providers should deliver patient-centred and clearly communicated risk factor and chronic disease management that meets the physical, social and emotional needs of women along the life course.
  • Hospitals and clinical settings should provide systematic referrals to rehabilitation for all cardiac patients, as part of discharge checklists.
  • Provincial governments and healthcare facilities should put programs into place to fund or subsidize cardiac rehabilitation so that cost is not a barrier for women. All governments and health institutions should implement the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.


  • Healthcare providers should create positive environments and encourage open dialogue with women, contributing to increasing health literacy regarding heart and brain health.
  • Women and men should strengthen their heart health literacy, becoming familiar with their risks, similarities and differences.

Please please please be more aware. Educate yourself. Get your heart checked, especially if you have a history of heart disease in your family.