Improving Your Chances — Heart Disease Leading Cause of Death Miramichi Women

Improving Your Chances —
Heart Disease Leading Cause of Death Miramichi Women

Often times many people think of heart disease as a male health problem. The result is that many women either ignore the warning signs or do not take precautions in preventing heart disease. This can have devastating results.  In fact, according to the New Brunswick Department of Health and Wellness statistics, diseases of the circulatory system are the leading cause of death and hospital care days for women in the region. Our region also boasts higher than the provincial average in the majority of risk factors for heart disease such as smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, poor dietary practices, and alcohol consumption.

“Women with heart disease represent a unique group and often differ from men in their presenting symptoms,” says registered nurse Brandy Donald who works in the concentrated care unit at the Miramichi Regional Hospital. Donald has also conducted extensive research into the topic of women and heart disease in the Miramichi as part of her Masters of Nursing Nurse Practitioner program.

“Traditional care-giving roles in women make seeking treatment for symptoms and initiating lifestyle changes especially challenging,” says Donald. She says women play many roles that include family member, spouse, mother, daughter, caregiver, co-worker and volunteer. “Women often spend so much time balancing these roles that they do not pay attention to their own health needs.” She says this can place them at a higher risk of developing heart disease risk factors. “Women over the age of 50 are also more prone to heart disease as a result of menopause.”

The warning signs of a heart attack can also differ between males and females. “The symptoms of a heart attack include pain, shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, and the feeling of fear,” says Donald. She says the most common sign of a heart attack is chest pain or discomfort for both males and females. “Studies have found that women may be more likely to describe the pain as radiating up their neck, into the jaw or into the back.” She says women also may be more likely than men to report nausea. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to report sweating. “It is important for women to know all the warning signs of a heart attack and seek immediate medical attention if any of them occur.” She says signs may be mild or severe and may come and go. “Don’t take chances, seek medical help.”

Geraldine Tweedie is well aware of these warning signs. Thirteen years ago, Tweedie underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery. “I began to notice that I was always losing my breath to the point where I had a hard time to breath,” says Tweedie. When it got to the point that she lost her breath by walking a short distance, she sought medical attention. “The internal medicine specialist sent me for a number of tests and I found out I had high cholesterol.” It was a short time later that she began to experience intense pain. “I went to the doctor and within a few days I was in the New Brunswick Heart Centre in Saint John, NB undergoing heart surgery.” In hindsight Tweedie realized she had been experiencing symptoms of angina for a long time before she sought medical treatment.

Prevention of heart disease

So what can be done to prevent heart disease?

Donald recommends women learn about their risk factors and take the necessary steps to reduce those that can be controlled. “Some risk factors such as age, ethnicity and family history can not be controlled however the majority of them can be changed.” These risk factors include smoking, inactivity, dietary practices, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, stress, excessive alcohol consumption and being overweight. “The more risk factors you have the higher risk you have of developing heart disease.”

“The best place to start is to speak to your family doctor or health care provider. Together, you can create a plan to change each one of the risk factors.” She says one small change can make a huge difference in your heart health.

“Since my heart surgery thirteen years ago, I have made many lifestyle changes,” says Tweedie. She says she continues to be active by walking in the summer and cross country skiing in the winter. “I also watch what I eat.” She says she has significantly cut back on fried foods, eats more fruits and vegetables and lean meats. “These lifestyle changes have made a difference. I am at a healthy weight and my cholesterol has been lowered. I feel so much better.”

Donald says it’s time women start to take care of their needs and look after their health. “In doing so, they will be better able to fulfill their roles as family member, spouse, mother, daughter, caregiver, co-worker and volunteer.”

Heart Health Facts (Heart and Stroke Foundation)

Ø Heart disease and stoke are responsible for more female deaths in Canada than any other disease.

Ø In 1999, 39,000 Canadian women died from heart disease and stroke.

Ø Heart disease and stroke accounted for 37% of all female deaths in Canada in 1999. In other words, out of every 100 women who died in 1999, 37 of these women died from heart disease or stroke.

Ø Women who smoke have a greater chance of having a stroke compared to non-smoking women.

Ø Women smokers who use birth control pills are significantly more likely to have heart attacks or strokes than non-smoking women.

Ø A woman’s risk of heart disease and stroke increases after menopause.

Ø Women of South Asian and First Nations descent have higher rates of heart disease than women of European or Chinese descent.

For more information about heart disease contact:

  • · Your family physician or health care provider
  • · Heart and Stroke Foundation of New Brunswick
    110 Crown Street Suite 340
    Saint John, New Brunswick E2L 2X7
    Telephone (506) 634-1620 or 1-800-663-3600
    Fax (506) 648-0098

  • · Health Canada

Tell us what you think about the Improving Your Chances health column by contacting us through E-Mail, phone (506) 623-3003 or mail the Miramichi Regional Health Authority, 500 Water St., Miramichi, NB, E1V 3G5.