Have a heart

Have a heart

February seems like the right time to talk about the heart. This organ is often associated with certain markers – love and compassion, for instance. While this may be a popular and romantic lens to look at the heart, the strong attachment between a woman’s health and her heart is usually ignored or sidelined.

Or rather, women’s hearts are not given their due in the medical sciences. If you are a woman, and experiencing alarming symptoms, in the emergency, you are more likely to be handed out a diagnosis of a heartburn. For the exact same symptoms, a man would be more likely to be looked at as a potential case of heart attack.

Dr. Cindy Yip, director of heart health at Heart & Stroke Foundation, Canada, pointed out in a recently-released  Heart & Stroke 2018 Heart Report  that women’s heart health is extremely under-researched and the condition very likely to be undiagnosed. Women of non-Caucasian and Indigenous backgrounds are most likely to fall prey to this blindsiding, much to their peril.

Women generally work long hours, clocking in paid or unpaid labour. Taking care of their own health seems like an afterthought. They are generally in charge of the well being of their families, and in the process, ignore their own health. Dr Yip has suggested that families, healthcare workers and workplaces understand the issues at play and take steps to counter the systemic neglect.

There exist a number of factors which make it difficult for a healthcare provider to confirm a diagnosis of heart trouble for a woman. For one, symptoms of a heart attack are different for women and men. While the most commonly known sign of a heart attack is severe chest pain, for women it could be shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure or extreme fatigue.

The report calls for women to be aware, and take certain steps to limit their risk. These include becoming a non smoker, maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, eating balanced meals and asking the doctor if medications for blood pressure and cholesterol need to be taken.