Supporting women’s heart health in the workplace

Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of premature death in women in Canada

February 20, 2024

For plan members, sponsors and administrators

Women’s cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of premature death in women in Canada.1 However, it doesn’t always receive the attention it deserves. 

Cardiovascular disease describes a range of conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels. It often presents itself differently in women vs. men, and this can lead to underdiagnosis and misdiagnosis in women.2 For instance, half of women who experience a heart attack (a specific event that can occur within the spectrum of heart disease) have their symptoms go unrecognized.3

Major cardiovascular diseases, like heart attacks or strokes, can have a lot of impacts on employees and their work, and so addressing risk factors for cardiovascular disease is an important way to lessen this impact.4 By promoting heart-healthy behaviours and supporting employee wellness, employers can help reduce the impact of cardiovascular disease on their employees.

This article outlines the importance of women’s cardiovascular health and discusses the unique warning signs of a heart attack in women. It also explores an increase in the number of people submitting drug claims related to hypertension in pregnancy that we’re seeing in our data. 

Additionally, it provides reminders for employers on the importance of raising awareness and promoting prevention. By taking steps to promote heart health, we can work together to improve health outcomes for women. 

While we use the terms “women” and "men" in this article, we recognize that gender is a spectrum and acknowledge individuals who identify beyond the gender binary.

Data shows more people being treated for hypertensive disorders in pregnancy

Hypertensive disorders in pregnancy are a group of conditions that are defined by high blood pressure readings and potentially other health complications during pregnancy.5 Hypertension affects about 6% to 8% of pregnancies.6 Recent Manulife aggregate claims data shows significant growth in the number of women being treated for hypertension in pregnancy. 

From 2019 to 2023 there’s been a 17.5% increase in unique claimants for medications commonly used to treat high blood pressure in pregnancy.8

There are a few underlying trends that might be influencing these increases, according to our Medical Director. This might include more individuals getting appropriate and timely care in pregnancy, with their elevated blood pressure being detected and treated. 

It may also reflect trends towards more pregnancies occurring at higher average ages across Canada, along with increased use of certain fertility procedures such as in vitro fertilization, which can increase the risk of elevated blood pressure during pregnancy.7 And lastly, this increase may also be related to more individuals having elevated blood pressure prior to the pregnancy, and then continuing to receive appropriate treatment for this during their pregnancy.

These conditions can have serious consequences for both the pregnant person and the developing baby – and data has shown that it’s becoming more common.6,8 As an employer, helping to promote a healthier workforce could help to reduce absenteeism and disability claims.9

Complications of high blood pressure in pregnancy

Not everyone will develop complications, but high blood pressure during pregnancy can impact how the developing baby receives nutrients and oxygen, and can contribute to premature birth.4 Elevated blood pressure could also develop into preeclampsia, a serious form of high blood pressure occurring later in pregnancy that can cause injury to the brain, heart, lung, kidneys and can impact the placenta and the uterus.6

Managing and treating hypertensive disorders in pregnancy might include frequent blood pressure monitoring, more frequent visits to your healthcare provider to monitor the pregnancy (including blood tests, urine tests and ultrasound tests), bed rest, or hospitalization.6

It is also important for women who have had hypertensive disorders in pregnancy to be aware of their increased risk of heart disease later in life.6 Regular health check-ups, including blood pressure monitoring and cholesterol testing, can help to detect other risk factors for heart disease and reduce the risk of serious complications.6

Warning signs of a heart attack in women


A heart attack occurs when there is a sudden blockage of blood flow to the heart, causing damage to the heart muscle, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.2



Even though cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of premature death in women in Canada, many women may not recognize the warning signs of a heart attack since they can be different from those experienced by men. As a result, they might delay getting medical attention.2



One of the most common signs of a heart attack in both women and men is chest pain, pressure, or discomfort. It might last for a few minutes, or it could come and go, and may be associated with physical exertion.10 However, it’s worth noting that not all women will experience chest pain or discomfort during a heart attack.2 Women may be more likely than men to experience other symptoms, such as shortness of breath, nausea, or fatigue.10



Other symptoms of a heart attack in women might include: 

  • Pain or discomfort in the neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back, or upper belly,
  • Shortness of breath,
  • Pain in one or both arms,
  • Nausea or vomiting,
  • Sweating,
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness,
  • Unusual fatigue, and 
  • Heartburn (indigestion).2


“Time is of the essence when it comes to treating a heart attack, and prompt treatment can save your life,” says Dr. Steve Pomedli of Cleveland Clinic Canada, Manulife’s Medical Director. “Being aware of these potential symptoms can help you or someone you know get medical attention in a timely way.”

The role of employers in promoting women’s heart health

Since we spend so much of our time in the workplace, employers are uniquely positioned to play a significant role in promoting the heart health of their employees. By raising awareness and providing resources and support, employers can help their employees understand their unique risks, be on the lookout for important symptoms and get the pregnancy-related care they need.

Here are some strategies, developed with Cleveland Clinic Canada, that can help you raise awareness about women’s cardiovascular health in your workplace.

  • Provide educational materials and resources on heart health, including information on risk factors, warning signs of a heart attack, and prevention strategies.
  • Consider having a segment of employees trained in first aid and ensure they know what steps to take in a medical emergency.11
  • Offer on-site health screenings and assessments, such as blood pressure checks and cholesterol testing, to help employees understand their risk. Contact your Manulife representative for more information on setting up a workplace screening clinic or for support with your overall well-being strategy.
  • Encourage healthy lifestyle choices, such as physical activity, healthy eating, and stress management, through workplace wellness programs and initiatives. For example, offerings like EFAP and Health Coaching can help address risk factors.

Women’s heart health and your group benefits plan

There are unique factors affecting women’s heart health, and by understanding how women might experience symptoms differently and be at increased risk, we can better support women and their cardiovascular health. Your group benefits plan can also help support women in your workforce. Consider arranging a blood pressure or cholesterol screening clinic to help your employees gain a better understanding of their cardiovascular health. Reach out to your usual Manulife representative for help.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to replace professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider or medical doctor.


1,related%20deaths%20in%20Canadian%20women, 2021
2, 2023
3, 2023 
4,with%20one%20or%20none%20of%20these%20risk%20factors, 2015 
5, 2015 
6, 2022
7,preliminary%2C%20and%20the%20study%20cohort%20was%20fairly%20small, 2018 
8 Manulife aggregate drug claims data, 2023
9, 2023
10, 2023 
11, 2023


Other references:, 2022, 2022, 2023

Related articles: