New research program investigates leading cause of death for women

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Providence Health Care and the University of British Columbia (UBC) have established the first research program in B.C. to focus on the impact of gender-based differences on (heart disease and stroke) – the UBC Heart and Stroke Foundation Professorship in ’s Cardiovascular Health.

The Professorship will develop a focused and integrated vision for cardiovascular care, education and research for women throughout the province, including rural communities. Dr. Karin Humphries, the holder of the Professorship, is based out ofSt. Paul’s Hospital inVancouver, which is known around the world for its work in the prevention of heart disease and for the care, treatment and support of people living with heart conditions.

“For decades, cardiovascular disease was considered a man’s disease, but the reality is that more women are dying of heart disease than men,” says Dr. Humphries, a leading research scientist at the Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences (CHÉOS) at St. Paul’s and Associate Professor in the Division of Cardiology in the Department of Medicine at the UBC Faculty of Medicine. “Although evidence suggests that gender differences can affect the prevalence, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and outcomes of cardiovascular disease, we haven’t seen enough research in this area of study.”

For example, one of Dr. Humphries’ studies – presented during the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress 2011 in Vancouver in November – found that women aged 20 to 55 had significantly worse physical limitations, more recurrences of chest pain, and worse quality of life than men one month after a heart attack. Dr. Humphries attributes the slower recovery of women in part to prevalent social and cultural standards that typically place women in this age group in the role of primary caregiver.

“These women are likely not getting the support they need to recover from a heart attack,” says Dr. Humphries. “Women are less likely to attend cardiac rehabilitation than their male counterparts even when they are referred. We need to help women overcome their barriers to this essential part of their recovery.”

The UBC Heart and Stroke Foundation Professorship in Women’s Cardiovascular Health was established by St. Paul’s Hospital and UBC with the support of part of $1.25 million in one-time funding to establish cardiac fellowships that was provided by the Ministry of Health through Cardiac Services BC, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority, and through a contribution of $500,000 from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.