Canadian Women Are In Dark When It Comes To Health

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Physiology. Biology. Sociology. It may sound like midterms all over again, but these are the very things that make men and women different. Although Canadians may think they know all about it, the results of the 2008 Women's College Hospital X-Effects Health Index show otherwise.

Three of four women (73 per cent) believe they are aware of women's health issues, beyond reproductive issues. However, when asked about specific diseases and how they relate to women, the poll revealed most aren't making the grade.

"When it comes to health care for women, you have to start by recognizing they are not men. Biological differences, as well as social roles and practices, affect women's health and health care needs. And that goes beyond the reproductive differences," said Gillian Einstein Ph.D., Senior Scientist at Women's College Research Institute, Director of the Collaborative Graduate Program in Women's Health and Professor of Psychology and Public Health at the University of Toronto. "What the research there is shows is that women and men have different symptoms with the same disease, and they get different diseases. But the awareness of this research among both doctors and their patients just isn't where it should be. Knowing about these differences, and discussing them with your doctor, can really help Canadian women improve their overall health."

Facing Facts in Women's Health

According to the 2008 Women's College Hospital Women's Health Index, women's lack of awareness about their health is from head to toe:

Diabetes: Half (48 per cent) of women believe both men and women are experiencing the same rise in occurrence of Type 2 diabetes; in fact women between the ages of 20 and 50 are experiencing the biggest rise in this serious chronic illness.

Heart disease: Only one-third (36 per cent) of Canadian women are aware that sudden pain in the chest, arm, neck, jaw or back are not always the most common symptoms for a woman suffering a heart attack; in fact 43 per cent of women report unusual fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting during a heart attack – not chest pain.


Arthritis: Nearly half (45 per cent) of women did not know more women suffer from arthritis than men; in fact two-thirds of Canadians living with arthritis are womeniii and women are twice as likely to be disabled by arthritis as men.

Depression: Sixty-one per cent of women are unaware that the number of men and women that experience depression in their lifetime is not the same; in fact research shows women are twice as likely as men to experience depression.

Cancer: One-third of women (33 per cent) of women mistakenly believe that men and women who smoke develop lung cancer at the same rate; in fact women are 1.5 times more likely than men to develop lung cancer and women who never smoked are more likely to develop lung cancer than men who have never smoked.

Stop the confusion – start the conversation

Knowing there are differences between men and women's health is the first step, but taking action and beginning the dialogue with your family doctor will help improve a woman's overall wellbeing. According to the Women's College Hospital Women's Health Index, only half (54 per cent) of women have discussed health issues unique to women with their doctor (beyond reproductive issues) in the past year. What's holding them back – it may be that only 46 per cent of women know what they should ask their physician when it comes to their specific health needs.

Women can begin the conversation with a few simple questions:

* I understand diabetes is a greater risk for heart disease for woman than men. Should this be a concern for me, and if so, what can I do to decrease my risk?

* I heard that along with cancer, heart disease is a major killer of Canadian women. Should I be doing more to prevent heart disease happening to me?

* Is it true that women are the fastest growing group affected by non-melanoma skin cancer? How do I know if I'm at risk?