The face of heart disease and stroke is changing, says Dr. Beth Abramson, a cardiologist at St. Michael’s Hospital.
“When it comes to men and women, heart disease is an equal opportunity killer. The best scientists have trouble differentiating the heart of a man and a woman.”
A professor of medicine at University of Toronto, and director of the cardiac prevention centre and women’s cardiovascular health at St. Michael’s, Abramson was one of the keynote speakers at Heart of the Matter, presented by Weizmann Canada and Shoppers Drug Mart as part of their women’s health learning series.
Abramson, author of Heart Health for Canadians, said that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Canada, and she wrote the book to encourage Canadians to be proactive and take care of their health.
“There are more deaths due to heart disease in those under age 65 than breast or lung cancer. [Heart disease causes] more deaths among women in Canada than all other cancers combined.
“We need to take care of ourselves and pay attention to the leading health threat. The death rate in men is coming down, but women’s death rate has increased a little.”
If you know your genes, she said, you could pay attention to other risk factors.
“The risks, [such as] high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol and family history, are the same for men and women. How we approach these risks [makes the difference]. High blood pressure is a silent killer. You need to know what’s normal, and you need to know your numbers.
“Do most things in moderation [and don’t smoke]. Heart attacks take many years of preparation – most are not sudden. If you make small, important lifestyle changes in your everyday routine, you can reduce the risks. If we all take the time to think of one small thing to change, we will all increase our health.”
Abramson said that people who are over 20 per cent of their healthy weight make their hearts work harder, and increase their risk of high cholesterol and diabetes. “We live in a toxic environment. There is a lot of food and fat out there. We are what we eat.”
She recommended eating 10 servings of vegetables a day, eating low fat, watching salt intake if you have a tendency to high blood pressure, and reading food labels.
She also encouraged women to use midlife as a time to reduce risks.
Also on the panel was Prof. Rachel Sarig, of the department of biological regulation at the Weizmann Institute in Israel.