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Women’s Heart Health

Leah Sarich | posted Wednesday, Feb 24th, 2016


February is Heart Month and Cardiologist Dr. Anne Gillis wants women to be more aware of their risk for heart disease. Dr. Gillis says one in two women will die from a cardiovascular event like a heart attack, yet many women do not realize this. One of the main reasons why is women often underestimate or dismiss any symptoms they may have. Furthermore, women’s symptoms of a heart attack may be different from a man’s. Dr. Gillis says women often do not have the crushing chest pain we most often associate with a heart attack. She says women may have feelings of indigestion, heartburn, shortness of breath, nausea, arm or jaw pain or even just a general feeling of unwellness.

Because these symptoms are so vague, Dr. Gillis says it is important for women to understand that they may be at risk of having a heart attack. So if they’re experiencing symptoms, they can articulate to their doctor that perhaps they’re having a heart attack to get the investigations, diagnosis and treatment they need in a timely manner. There are some risk factors that cannot be changed like age and family history. But Dr. Gillis says other risk factors can be controlled: blood pressure and cholesterol can be reduced, women can stop smoking and exercise more to lose weight and improve vascular health and diabetes needs to be under control. Also, women who develop preeclampsia or gestational diabetes while pregnant are at risk for heart disease later in life.

Women should also understand that heart disease is often different in women than in men. For example, Dr. Gillis says women more often have small vessel disease where the vessels don’t work properly and do not transmit blood  to the heart appropriately. Men more often have large blockages or cholesterol plaques in their arteries.

Dr. Gillis says if women know their risks and the symptoms of a heart attack, they’re more likely to describe their symptoms to their doctor more accurately prompting the appropriate tests, diagnosis and treatment. The sooner blood flow is restored to the heart the less damage that occurs.

For more information on women and heart disease visit this website. 

If you’re interested in learning more about heart surgery, there’s a public forum at the University of Calgary on Thursday February 25th at 5:45 pm.

World Cancer Day

Leah Sarich | posted Thursday, Feb 4th, 2016


It’s World Cancer Day. And while two out of five Canadians are expected to develop cancer during their lifetime, remarkable advances are being made in the disease. Matt Miller is an example this progress. Matt was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma two years ago when he was 22. He did six cycles of chemotherapy and is now in remission.

Dr. Michelle Geddes from the Tom Baker Cancer Centre explains lymphoma is one of the success stories in cancer. She says they’ve learned to use combinations of chemotherapy and sometimes radiation to kill rapidly spreading cancer cells. And now Hodgkins lymphoma is curable in most cases… something Matt knows well. In fact, Dr. Geddes says doctors treating these young people with Hodgkins lymphoma have to think of the long term consequences when it comes to treating their patients. The treatment becomes a balance of curing the cancer while preserving long term health. Dr. Geddes says they have to be mindful of protecting organs like lungs which are sometimes damaged by chemotherapy, they have to preserve fertility and reduce the risk of second cancers due to to chemotherapy and radiation exposure.

Dr. Geddes explains this is where cancer treatment is going… toward more targeted and personal treatments in an effort to minimize side effects and long term consequences to the patient.

Matt is looking toward his future now and he says it feels “spectacular.” He says he’s inspired now to give back. He wants to set up a non profit organization that will help young people will cancer. He is also this year’s Honoured Hero for the Calgary chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night Walk.  This year’s Walk will be on October 15th, registration is open today.

For more information on lymphoma visit this website. For more information on the Light the Night Walk go here.

Couple and Family Stress

Leah Sarich | posted Tuesday, Feb 2nd, 2016

It is such a difficult time for so many families in Calgary. One person may have lost their job or even both or perhaps there’s just the uncertainty of the family’s financial future.

Marriage and Family Therapist Lori Limacher says research shows there’s a 50 percent increase in separation and divorce after one member of a relationships is laid off, particularly if that unemployment lasts for a long period of time. Limacher says she’s seen a huge spike in her practice since the economy took a downturn here in Alberta.

Limacher says most couples can rally for awhile, they can work together and problem solve but as the unemployment drags on it can be very challenging for couples. She suggests there are a few red flags to watch for including having difficulty talking about an issue about which you were previously able to communicate, withdrawal, an increase in alcohol or drug use, if the children are acting out more or if there are issues at school that can’t be explained by something else and if the couple is connecting less sexually. These issues need to be addressed says Limacher and it can be really hard and it may require assistance from a mental health professional.

Limacher says couples, if they can afford it, should look to new roles in the family. For example, if dad has been laid off, perhaps he can spend more time with the children or take on more of the household chores. This role reversal can be a positive way of dealing with job loss. But the role adjustment does need to be discussed between the couple, and not just once, it usually needs to be negotiated once and then couples need to check in with each other to see how the new roles are working out.

Limacher also suggests working at de-personalizing the lay off. She says often the person who has lost their job takes it personally, blames themselves and that can lead to shame which can shut down communication. Limacher says it is better to instead blame the economy or the company, not oneself. She also suggests mobilizing one’s support network, including their colleagues who may have also been laid off, so that everyone can talk about how they’re feeling and get the stress out in the open.

As for the children, she says unemployment is a family affair. It means a lot of change for everyone including the kids…. whether it be scaling back on family holidays or extra curricular activities or even groceries, kids will feel the change. She says talk to the children but make sure the information you’re giving them is age appropriate.

Limacher encourages the entire community to start talking about this terrible economy and its affect on the mental health and stability of families. She says more needs to be done to make mental health resources readily available to everyone who needs them.

If you’re needing mental health assistance, call Access Mental Health at 403-943-1500 or talk to you family doctor.