P.E.I. Women just as likely to develop heart disease, but diagnosed much later: Island nurse

By Hailey Caissie

April 21, 2021

John-Paul Caissie thought he was just having a dizzy spell. He suddenly felt weak on the left side of his body. But it turned out to be more serious.

The 46-year-old was rushed to the Prince County Hospital in Summerside.

They ran a series of tests and Caissie was diagnosed with a heart condition, unrelated to the holes that caused the stroke, called bicuspid aortic valve disease.

The second problem caused his aorta to dilate and eventually detach from the heart.

As it turns out, the stroke saved his life.

Heart disease second leading cause of death

Caissie is just one of many suffering from heart disease. Heart disease is the second leading cause of death on P.E.I. and in Canada, behind cancer. 

The number of deaths on P.E.I. from January-September 2020 was 970. Of those, 17 per cent were caused by heart disease, according to Statistics Canada.

Heart disease is often seen as a “man’s disease,” but the numbers tell a different story.

In 2019, of the 275 Islanders who died of heart disease, 57 per cent were men and 43 per cent were women.

It has been that way for many years. Back in 2000, 346 Islanders died of heart disease, 51 per cent were men, and 49 per cent were women.

Jillian Silliker is a neonatal RN at the Prince County Hospital. A significant number of their hospital admissions are heart related, and many are women, she said.

“If you have a 12-bed patient assignment you might have a third of those patients be cardiovascular related.”

Hormones protect heart, diminish with menopause

Silliker works with mostly younger women who are at childbearing age. She sees a lot of women with hypertension, high blood pressure, who need to be induced for premature labour for the safety of the mother and baby.

Preeclampsia, a condition that involves high blood pressure is often found in pregnant women, said Silliker.

“Studies show that women who had preeclampsia during pregnancy are more likely to develop heart failure early on in life.”

The hormonal cycle affects women’s cardiovascular health, said Silliker.

“When women are in pre-menopausal years, estrogen is kind of protecting the heart. Estrogen actually relaxes the arteries and prevents cholesterol.”

Once the estrogen declines in menopause, women develop risk factors such as high cholesterol and hypertension, said Silliker.

“So we see men having heart problems earlier in life than women, often times because of the protective factors of estrogen,” she said.

“There’s not a huge percentage difference in terms of men and women dying from heart disease, but there is a gap in terms of women being diagnosed with heart disease at a later age compared to men.”

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of P.E.I. is a non-profit organization on Kent Street in Charlottetown.

The volunteer run charity strives to help reduce death and disability from heart disease and strokes among Islanders through fund raising activities.

The money raised goes to research, health promotion programs, building stroke units, and fundraiser events such as Jump Rope for Heart, and Ride for Heart.