Canadian healthcare professionals unaware that sex matters in heart disease

    TORONTO, Oct. 26 /CNW Telbec/ - Physicians are short-changing Canadian
women when it comes to taking care of their hearts, says Dr. Susan K. Bennett,
delivering the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada Lecture at the Canadian
Cardiovascular Congress 2008.
    "Doctors need to hear the message about the significant deficits in
women's heart health care and bridge this gender gap," says Dr. Bennett,
director of the women's heart program at George Washington University
    She says that as the public's awareness and knowledge about women's risk
factors and warning signs increases thanks to increased public awareness
campaigns, more and more women are going to their doctors with their concerns.
Yet often, she says, their healthcare providers are not up to date on how
women can experience heart disease differently than men. "Healthcare
professionals need to be educated about women's cardiovascular issues and meet
the public's expectations," says Dr. Bennett.
    "There is a serious gap in awareness in medical professions," she says.
"Data suggests that women do not receive the same care that men do. We need to
explore the reasons why and close that gap.
    "Meetings such as the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress are opportunities
to work towards closing this gender gap and meeting women's needs for more
effective care delivery."
    Heart disease and stroke are the leading cause of death in Canada and
responsible for the death of one in three women. Bennett notes that when it
comes to prevention and treatment of heart disease, there are some worrisome
disparities with respect to women's heart health on both sides of the border.
    The 2007 Heart and Stroke Foundation report card revealed that Canadian
women's heart health has not kept pace with men's. The reasons for this are
still unclear. The report concluded that contributing factors may be systemic,
social, and biological - and answers need to be found.

    Why the gap?

    Bennett says physicians are either not entirely comfortable with the
issue of gender differences or are not ready to meet women's needs. "There's a
huge population within the medical care community - obstetricians ,
gynaecologists, emergency room physicians, family doctors - who still haven't
gotten the message."
    Bennett points to a 2005 American Heart Association poll which found a
striking lack of knowledge in the medical community. Only eight per cent of
primary care physicians and 17 per cent of cardiologists correctly knew that
more American women than men die of heart disease.
    She says there is a similar lack of knowledge among Canadian healthcare
professionals and points to the fact that fewer women are referred to a
cardiologist following a heart attack, they have lower rates of undergoing
coronary artery bypass surgery and angioplasty, and they are less likely to be
transferred to another facility for treatment.

    Bridging the gap

    Bennett calls on healthcare professionals to break down the walls and
become a bridge for women's heart health.
    For this to happen, she says more efforts need to be made to get the
message about women's heart health needs to the medical care community.
    In her opinion, physicians frequently underestimate a women's risk for
heart disease. "Their perception of women being at low risk for heart disease
leads to inaction," says Bennett. "We need more emphasis on women's
uncontrolled hypertension, high cholesterol levels, and lifestyle risks."
    She says that dealing with prevention issues is key. "But doctors are
busy and often don't have the time to discuss prevention," she says.
    It doesn't help, either, that clinical trials still under-represent women
to a considerable degree. When results are in and a new drug or device is
declared advantageous, results may not apply to women because women made up
such a minority of the clinical trial population that no solid conclusions can
be drawn.
    "Not all drugs work the same in men and women but we don't know enough
about these differences to exploit their advantages or disadvantages,"
Dr. Bennett said.
    Dr. Bennett notes that decision-making seems to be slower when women
present to the emergency department with heart attack symptoms and they
receive the necessary tests somewhat later than men. "Once they get to the
cardiac cath lab, they get reasonably good care," Dr. Bennett observed, "but
mortality rates among women are still higher than they are for men."
    That was the impetus behind the launch of the Heart Truth campaign in the
U.S., the campaign to get women to talk to their doctors about their risk for
heart disease. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada adapted the campaign
and launched it in Canada in 2008. Bennett cites that public awareness in the
U.S. has consistently gone up since the program was introduced but while the
majority of women claim to know it's the number one killer, they think, "it's
not my number one killer."
    "As professionals, we need to be reminded that there is a significant
deficit in heart healthcare for women," says Dr. Lyall Higginson, president of
the Canadian Cardiovascular Society. "We need to work diligently to improve.
This annual meeting is important to educate professionals on issues like this
and it is why The Heart Truth campaign is vitally important to improve
cardiovascular health for Canadian women."
    "The Heart Truth has done an amazing job of educating women and
encouraging women to seek cardiovascular care," says Bennett, who is a
spokesperson for The Heart Truth in the U.S. "Now healthcare professionals
need to get the message. As awareness among women does increase, female
patients are going to expect a better level of care.
    "Physicians make unconscious choices sometimes, whether talking to a male
or female patient and just the interaction itself determines how you end up
treating your patient - gender is a big part of it and it's not going away."
    The Canadian Cardiovascular Congress is co-hosted by the Heart and Stroke
Foundation and the Canadian Cardiovascular Society.

    Statements and conclusions of study authors are solely those of the study
authors and do not necessarily reflect Foundation or CCS policy or position.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the Canadian Cardiovascular
Society make no representation or warranty as to their accuracy or

    The Heart and Stroke Foundation (, a volunteer-based
health charity, leads in eliminating heart disease and stroke and reducing
their impact through the advancement of research and its application, the
promotion of healthy living, and advocacy.

    The Canadian Cardiovascular Society ( is the national voice for
cardiovascular physicians and scientists. Its mission is to promote
cardiovascular health and care through knowledge translation, professional
development, and leadership in health policy.

    To find out more about The Heart Truth and women and heart disease, visit

For further information:

For further information: and/or interviews, contact the CCC 2008 media
office, (416) 585-3703 (Oct 26-29); Diane Hargrave, Public Relations, (416)
467-9954,; Congress information and media registration is
at; After October 29, 2008, contact: Jane-Diane Fraser,
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, (613) 569-4361 ext 273,

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