The organization is sounding the alarm over the slow progress being made in taking women’s bodies into consideration when it comes time to do research or screen for heart problems.
She also wants to educate women and health professionals about the potential dangers of heart and brain disease in women.
According to the Foundation, also known as Heart+ AVC, in 2019, one woman every 16 minutes in the country died due to problems of this order. In fact, they are the leading causes of premature death of women in the country.
A heart problem or an anxiety attack?
Elizabeth Jolicoeur, a professional and mother of three children from Lévis, had quite the scare a few years ago. Every few weeks, she suffered episodes of tachycardia for no apparent reason.
The first time, she was driving her car with her husband and daughter on board. She was convinced she was dying.
« I’m sitting in my car and my heart is racing for absolutely nothing. And at the same time, I had a feeling of suffocation. It was tight in the throat. I was really having difficulty breathing. »
She contacted the emergency services and went to the hospital. The first doctors she saw concluded that she had anxiety attacks. A scenario that repeated itself soon after.
« I found it easy to say that you are an active woman in the modern world, it is certain that you are stressed. Life is anxiety-provoking, so you’re anxious. This is what triggers palpitations. »
The third episode of tachycardia occurred after exercising in the gym.
It was the correlation between tachycardia and physical exercise that prompted the doctor to do more tests. Elizabeth was then sent to cardiology despite having no risk factors.
The heart ultrasound showed the presence of a cardiac myxoma, a tumor that could have killed her.
I was going to certain death if it had not been diagnosed.
Since then, Elizabeth Jolicoeur has encouraged women to name their symptoms and fight for them to be taken into consideration.
« Try to express as best you can how you feel. Defend it. Tell him that it’s not normal, in your opinion, what you are feeling as symptoms. And it’s not all about anxiety. We are in a world where anxiety is very present, but that does not explain everything. »
Experts recognize that symptoms related to heart and brain disease are not always the same in men and women.
A heart attack does not necessarily present in women with pain in the chest and numbness in the left arm. According to cardiologist Marie-Kristelle Ross of the Hôtel-Dieu de Lévis, it can be a feeling of indigestion, nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness.
A situation that can lead to confusion, which can delay the moment when women consult and which can delay the diagnosis of health professionals.
« For all sorts of reasons, women go to consult much later. They will present at much more advanced stages and will have more complications. »
Dr. Pacheco co-founded the first integrated women’s cardiovascular health center in Quebec to address precisely these issues.
For example, certain types of heart attacks are more common in women than in men.
« A type of heart attack that occurs in 90% of women is spontaneous coronary dissection. It’s not a classic cholesterol plug that clogs the artery. The artery tears spontaneously. »
This is what causes the infarction, often in women who have no prior health problem, she explains. There needs to be increased education both among the public and among health professionals to be aware of these differences.
Certain cardiac episodes are more likely to be triggered during periods of hormonal change, such as during pregnancy or menopause.
Experts call for more research to address these realities. They also believe that these periods of great change are crucial times for identifying risk factors and ensuring follow-up of patients in the following years.