Reduced quality of life, premature death and $20.9 billion in annual federal spending is required to treat cardiovascular disease, a significant health issue in Canada. The Maritimes is home to the highest levels of cardiovascular disease in Canada due to risk factors, including an aging population and high rates of obesity and diabetes. While heart disease can affect people from all walks of life, recent studies have shown that specific populations, including women, pregnant women, Indigenous women, babies, older obese and diabetic adults, are more vulnerable.  For example:

  • Close to 25,000 women die each year from heart disease, and it is the leading cause of premature death for women in Canada. Women are five times more likely to die from heart disease than breast cancer.
  • Coronary heart disease is responsible for a 53 percent higher death rate in Indigenous women compared to non-Indigenous women. Heart health in indigenous communities is influenced by access to health care, education, and affordable food and water .
  • Over the nine months of gestation, women develop pregnancy-related conditions that put them at higher risk of heart disease including pre-eclampsia, diabetes, and hypertension.
  • Congenital heart disease (CHD) is the world’s leading birth defect. About 1 in 80-100 Canadian children are born with CHD. Sixty years ago, only about 20 percent of children survived to adulthood; that number has since increased to about 90 percent – resulting in a growing population of young adults who require life-long cardiac care. There are an estimated 257,000 Canadians with congenital heart disease.
  • Diabetes triples the risk to  die of heart disease, and even greater in diabetic women. 
  • Obesity is a significant risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes and related co-morbidities such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, and cancer . Being overweight or obese overwhelms the body and heart, increasing risk of multifactorial cardiovascular disease. It is estimated that one in 10 premature deaths among Canadian adults age 20 to 64 are directly attributable to obesity.

Identified as a priority research team, the Cardiovascular Diseases in Vulnerable Populations group brings together research groups in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick consisting of life science discovery scientists, biomedical engineers, kinesiologist, nutritionist, cardiologists, and cardiovascular surgeons. Focusing efforts on the most vulnerable heart patients of all, including pregnant women, babies, older adults and those with obesity and diabetes, the group is collaboratively working to uncover new knowledge for the prevention and advancing treatment of cardiovascular disease and heart failure, in the vulnerable populations.

“We’re doing drug studies in mouse models aimed at reducing the level of frailty and benefitting heart function. We’ve had some really encouraging preliminary results, and our end goal is to translate this to humans.”

- Dr. Susan Howlett
Professor, Pharmacology and Geriatric Medicine, Dalhousie University