Heart Disease Leading Cause of Female Mortality

Lilia Malkin, BSc

Contrary to popular belief, heart disease is not predominantly a "male" illness: according to Health Canada, nearly 20,000 Canadian women, compared to approximately 24,000 men, died of causes related to ischemic heart disease in 1995.

As awareness of women's vulnerability to cardiovascular disease increases, so does the number of clinical studies that address potential differences between men and women in coronary heart disease (CHD) presentation, course, and treatment. Notably, Dr. Beth Abramson, Director of Women's Cardiovascular Health in the Division of Cardiology at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto emphasized that there are many issues in cardiology where treatment is irrespective of gender. However, recent research shows that several cardiac health issues may be specific to women, such as risk perception, heart disease presentation, use of diagnostic and treatment procedures, as well as some unique risk factors.

Unfortunately, many North American women do not perceive cardiovascular disease as a considerable health risk and focus their attention predominantly on illnesses affecting reproductive organs, as well as breast cancer. However, CHD is the leading cause of death in Canadian women, especially older women. It is estimated that 1 in 3 North American women will die of heart disease, while 1 in 25 will succumb to breast cancer.