Research Report 2018

A man in an operating room

Dr. Paula Harvey | Scientist, Cardiologist, Physician-in-Chief and Director, Cardiovascular Research Program

Cardiovascular care designed for women

Heart disease has been traditionally considered to be a man’s disease, despite being a leading cause of death in women both in Canada and around the world. Until recently, heart disease in women has been under-researched, under-treated and under-supported. Dr. Paula Harvey, F.M. Hill Chair in Academic Medicine’s research is focused on closing this health gap and improving cardiovascular health in women across their lifespan by tackling both risk factors and disease prevention though lifestyle interventions.

Many clinical investigation techniques and treatments are available to prevent and treat heart attacks, however heart attack rates in younger women are increasing and women are also more likely to die or have a second heart attack within six months of a cardiovascular event. Dr. Harvey’s research addresses the unique differences between men and women to reduce both immediate and lifelong risk of heart disease and improves awareness of this health gap. She’s working to close these gaps by investigating how to best identify and quantify a woman’s cardiovascular risk, then implement individually-tailored lifestyle interventions to prevent heart disease, regardless of their age or complexity of other co-morbidities. Research has shown that following a heart attack, women are a third less likely to enroll and participate in cardiac rehabilitation. To improve secondary prevention of further heart disease, Dr. Harvey is focused on improving support for referrals and adherence to cardiac rehabilitation programs, especially for women from marginalized communities at increased risk.

Dr. Harvey also works in collaboration with colleagues across many different specialties such as rheumatology, psychology and exercise physiology to develop interdisciplinary clinical programs to address the many health gaps in awareness, clinical care and disease prevention in women. She co-established Canada’s first cardio-rheumatology clinic at Women’s College Hospital with Dr. Lihi Eder to help patients with inflammatory rheumatic conditions manage their increased risk of heart disease. Most of these rheumatology patients would not have been assessed or received preventative care for cardiovascular disease without the development of the specialized clinic.