Fighting the misconception of heart disease affecting mostly men

A decade after a McGill University Health Centre nurse began a movement to prevent heart disease in women, patients and healthcare workers are still working to change the perception that the illness mostly afflicts men.

“It's still, today, in 2021, thought of as a man's disease. It's not. One in three women die of heart disease or stroke,” said Wendy Wray, founder of the Women's Healthy Heart Initiative.

Among the women who have had heart disease affect their lives is Cheryl Bertoia. Five years ago, after a trip to southeast Asia, she remembers something feeling off.

“We immediately went online, looked up what I was experiencing and said 'You're having a heart attack. We need to go to the emergency room right now,'” she said.

Her trip to the hospital introduced her to Wray's initiative, which has designated Feb. 12 as Wear Red Day in honour of women's heart health.

Bertoia said that as she had no history of heart disease or obesity, her heart attack caught her off guard.

“My first thought was 'No, this can't be happening to me, there's no reason for this to happen to me,'” she said.

She also experienced lesser known symptoms of the disease in women.

“They have associated symptoms such as nausea, shortness of breath, light headedness and fatigue,” said Wray.

Wray said she hopes increased awareness will encourage more people to not put off seeking treatment.

“The good news is that heart disease is 80 per cent preventable,” she said.  

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