International Women’s Day: Improve Women’s Heart Health Awareness

This Sunday, March 8th, is International Women’s Day; a day to celebrate the contributions of women and the advances we have made in equality and women’s rights. International Women’s Day also encourages reflection on the changes that have yet to be made and how we can continue to strive toward a more equitable and just society. One aspect that Heart Niagara can contribute to is that of women’s health.

According to the World Health Organization, “noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) account for 80% of deaths among adult women in high-income countries; 25% of deaths among adult women in low-income countries are attributable to NCD.” Noncommunicable diseases include cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, tobacco-related illnesses, and other, often preventable, diseases. Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death globally for both women and men.

In particular, the leading causes of heart disease are poor nutrition, physical inactivity, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption. Several factors contribute to these unhealthy practices, including the environment around us which influences our ability to make healthy choices. For example, both food deserts, where fresh produce is almost non-existent, and cities planned without active transportation in mind (e.g. lacking sidewalks, bike lanes, well-lit streets, etc.), make it significantly harder for people to eat well and be active.

Of course, albeit unfortunately, we know that heart disease can often lead to heart attack and stroke – and that brings us back to the topic of women’s health. It is becoming increasingly clear that many women suffering a heart attack delay or avoid treatment altogether. This may be due in part to how heart attacks are usually described and depicted. Many women do not experience the classic, intense, chest pain that we’ve come to expect. Instead, symptoms can be less obvious. Some common signs of a heart attack, particularly for women, are: pain in one or both arms, neck, stomach, jaw, or back; shortness of breath; nausea; and breaking out into a cold sweat. Rosie O’Donnell, after suffering a major heart attack without chest pain, came up with the acronym HEPPP to help women remember these symptoms: hot, exhausted, pain (not necessarily in chest), pale, puke.

Additionally, even today, girls are often raised with the expectation that they will put others first, which may contribute to the delay in women seeking medical help. This was illustrated well in the American Heart Association’s entertaining yet educational “Just a Little Heart Attack” video with Elizabeth Banks. In the video, Banks races around the house trying to get her family ready for school and work; she doesn’t recognize that she is having a heart attack and she feels she has too much to do instead of worrying about her own health.

This International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate the progress and accomplishments of women. But let us also discuss the importance of women’s health – maybe taking a moment to educate your loved ones on the signs and symptoms of a hea

By Aaryn Secker

Aaryn earned her BEd at McGill University and her MEd at Brock University. She is currently the Education and Communications Coordinator at Heart Niagara.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in blog entries are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Heart Niagara.

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