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Addressing discrimination in heart disease treatment

Photo courtesy of Hannah Martin

The University of Ottawa Heart Institute opened the Women’s Heart Health Centre on Nov. 7, the first of its kind in Canada.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women over the age of 35, and heart attacks go unnoticed by women up to 53 per cent of the time.

A lack of information surrounding the effects of heart disease on women was the driving force behind the new clinic, according to Thierry Mesana, president and CEO of the Heart Institute.

“Women are still discriminated against when it comes to the management and treatment of cardiovascular disease,” Mesana said at the launch. “They continue to be under-diagnosed and undertreated.”

Dr. Michele Turek, a cardiologist and advisor for the new centre, said it’s important for women to recognize the symptoms. “It’s not just your classic chest pains, it can be anything that makes you feel unwell,” she said.

“What happens with women is they tend to back off a bit and say, ‘I have other things to do, I’m too busy, I have to do this, I have to drive there,’” said Dr. Turek. “Before you know it, you’re in trouble.”

Diane Burton, a patient at the clinic, told attendees she “knew basically nothing” about heart health before she had a heart attack in 2012 at the age of 54.

It’s important to have a heart health centre “where women can feel comfortable and feel like they get the best possible treatment,” said Burton.

The centre will be dedicated to promoting awareness about the effects of heart disease on women, as well as treatment and prevention. Services provided include counselling and online resources to track and manage cardiac health.

“Our team is now committed to keeping our mothers, wives, and daughters in good health and with strong, caring hearts,” said Mesana.