It's February, a month when people think about their heart and the health of their heart on more regular basis.

One thing that has come to light recently is that heart disease is not only a men's health issue, but it is also something that is affecting women on a daily basis. Heart disease is the most common cause of death for both women and men.

The Heart & Stroke Foundation published reports on heart disease and stroke in 2018 demonstrating that women in Canada are under-researched, under-diagnosed, under-treated and under-supported during recovery and under-aware of their risks.

Dr. Olga Toleva is an interventional cardiologist at St. Boniface Hospital. She says it is important to put a focus on females and the health of their heart.

"For many years in the past it was belied that women don't suffer from heart disease or not as prevalently as men," Dr. Olga Toleva, an interventional Cardiologist at St. Boniface Hospital explained. "Now we know there is a high risk of developing heart conditions in women. And there are some heart conditions that are more specific to women than men."

One of the conditions that affects women more specifically is Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD). It is an emergency condition that occurs when a tear forms in a blood vessel in the heart. As blood flow is slowed or blocked entirely, the result can be a heart attack, heart rhythm abnormalities, or sudden death.

This condition most commonly affects pregnant and menopausal women.

When it comes to heart attacks in women, symptoms are not always obvious. When a man has a heart attack they will quite often have a crushing pain in their chest and numbness in their arm. Women on the other hand experience slight discomfort in their chest, pain in their arms, shoulder and jaw area and just a general feeling of unwell.

Dr. Toleva says it is important to take preventative measures to reduce the risk of having a heart attack. They include reducing our cholesterol by eating a proper diet, exercising, being healthy, consulting with a doctor for the levels of cholesterol, reducing our blood pressure, taking control of diabetes and obesity and also staying away from smoking.

February 13 saw events all across Canada calling for awareness of the women's health issue. Toleva was one of four Winnipeg members of  the Canadian Women's Health Heart Alliance, who organized the event specifically for Manitoba, which featured a number of heart-focused events throughout the day.

Toleva will also be featured in three upcoming talks at cardiac rehab centres, to educate on the importance of heart health amongst women and exercise both prior to and following a heart diagnosis.