Take this advice from a cardiovascular health expert to heart

February is Heart Month.  According to the Heart & Stroke Foundation, heart disease and stroke take one life every 7 minutes and 90% of Canadians have at least one risk factor.

Recently, we caught up with Karin Humphries, Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine and UBC Heart and Stroke Foundation Professor in Women’s Cardiovascular Health, to talk about how gender-based differences affect cardiovascular disease. Dr. Humphries is also the inaugural Scientific Director for the BC Centre for Improved Cardiovascular Health (ICVHealth). In this role, she is committed to improving health outcomes for British Columbians at risk for, or living with cardiovascular disease.

Tell us about your research.

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Karin Humphries, UBC Heart and Stroke Foundation Professor in Women’s Cardiovascular Health

My research is focused on the treatment and outcomes of patients with cardiovascular disease. Specifically, I seek to better understand how to deliver high quality care at a sustainable cost to achieve the best outcomes for patients. I have a particular interest in evaluating differences in the diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes of women with cardiovascular disease, compared to men. Our work has identified important sex differences in care that lead to under-diagnosis, under-treatment, and poorer outcomes in women.

What interests you about heart disease?

I am inspired by how much we can do to prevent heart disease and by how effective many of our treatments are for those with the disease. Some of the best clinical trials have been done in the area of heart disease. And with ongoing research, we continue to improve our understanding of the causes of this disease, which leads not only to better treatments, but also to more effective prevention strategies.

How does heart disease present in women? How is this different from men?

This remains an area of controversy. While women are slightly less likely to present with typical symptoms of myocardial ischemia, the most common heart attack symptom is still chest pain, pressure or discomfort, in both men and women. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

What can women, specifically, do to prevent heart disease?

The most important things to focus on include:

  • Stop smoking; or even better, never start
  • Manage your blood pressure
  • Be physically active
  • Eat healthy; include fruits and vegetables
  • Maintain a healthy weight

What advice would you give to women around the maintenance of a healthy heart?

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women, but you can take steps to reduce your risk. Engage with your health care provider to monitor your blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol levels. And make the lifestyle changes listed above to help ensure you have a healthy heart throughout your life.

February is Heart Month. What is the one thing you wish more people were aware of regarding this vital organ?

Despite the impressive reductions in the incidence of and mortality from heart disease in the past few decades, too many people still suffer from heart disease. Ongoing support of research and health promotion is essential to achieve a future free from cardiovascular disease.