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Empowering Women’s Heart Health through Community Advocacy

The POWER HUB of the RI-MUHC is raising awareness about women’s heart health across Montreal’s diverse and marginalized communities

Did you know cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for women in North America, with increasing mortality rates among women under 55? That’s why Dr. Judy Luu, a clinician-scientist and cardiologist at the RI- MUHC specializing in women’s heart health, is pioneering the POWER HUB (Pathways for cardiOvascular care for Women in Ethnic, Racialized, and Remote communities). The POWER HUB is a health promotion initiative, consisting of a multidisciplinary team of scientists, volunteers, allied healthcare professionals, and community members, with the aim of reducing the burden of cardiovascular disease in women from marginalized and remote communities through community empowerment, research, and advocacy. 

 

One of the POWER HUB’s main objectives is to characterize how psychosocial risk factors impact women’s heart disease, specifically considering the contribution of gendered social roles, personal identity, and institutional norms. The POWER HUB hopes that by clarifying the role of psychosocial stress as a risk factor for heart disease, it will allow for the establishment of targeted, sex-specific primary prevention measures. 


The importance of psychosocial factors, beyond traditional cardiac risk factors

Psychosocial factors, such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD, are known to elevate heart disease risk in both men and women; however, the way that heart disease manifests is sex-specific.1,2 For instance, recent work has suggested that psychosocial stress is more strongly linked with markers of inflammation in women’s hearts than in men’s.3 Additionally, women experience different psychosocial stressors than their male counterparts, as they often have greater caregiving responsibilities, home and work responsibilities, financial concerns, and domestic duties.4,5 Importantly, women from racialized, marginalized, and remote communities experience unique stressors exacerbated by systemic bias and language barriers. Black women, for instance, are found to experience 20% more risk of cardiovascular mortality relative to their white counterparts.6 Unfortunately, these racialized and marginalized groups were and continue to be underrepresented in research. This is something the POWER HUB hopes to address. Using novel cardiac MRI methods and blood biomarkers collected by the Courtois Cardiovascular Signature Program, the POWER HUB initiative hopes to specifically define the mechanisms underlying cardiovascular risk in women.


The POWER HUB’s projects and team

The POWER HUB initiative is inherently multifaceted. It is not limited to lab-based research, but rather, the group engages in community outreach and health advocacy. Their Dialogue Seminar Series aims to bridge the gap between researchers and the public by discussing heart disease in women, teaching people how to prioritize their own health, and providing opportunities for community members to become actively involved in research and outreach. A recent milestone was the POWER HUB’s inaugural in-person event, the first Dialogue Series, held in collaboration with and hosted by the Jamaica Association of Montreal. Led entirely by POWER HUB volunteers, the event featured an interactive Q&A on women’s heart health, and a medical student-led teaching session on how to monitor one’s own blood pressure at home. 


The POWER HUB’s multidisciplinary team consists of healthcare professionals, researchers, RI-MUHC trainees, and medical students, some of whom have lived experience with discrimination. Most importantly, the team includes community partners representing marginalized and racialized groups. This diversity of representation and leadership ensures that the POWER HUB’s advocacy events and research projects are directly relevant to the populations they seek to serve.



Caption: The POWER-HUB team at their inaugural Dialogue Series event on February 11th, 2024, hosted by the Jamaica Association of Montreal.


Their first Dialogue Series event was a massive success, and many community members chose to partner with the POWER HUB initiative to contribute their own ideas and insights to future initiatives. As the first of many, the POWER HUB’s Dialogue series will build a network of community associations in and around Montreal, paving pathways for improved cardiovascular care for women. 


The team is already preparing their next event, in which they hope to reach other underserved communities, such as the Indigenous community. All are welcome, and more information about future events is soon to come!


Do you know of a community organization that may be interested in hosting a POWER-HUB event? Are you personally interested in getting involved in our growing team? Feel free to fill out our contact form or email the POWER-HUB’s community outreach leads, Maya Verma and Kate Lindsay, at maya.verma@mail.mcgill.ca and katherine.lindsay@mail.mcgill.ca


Want to learn more? Connect with the POWER-HUB team on Instagram: team_powerhub1 


References:


  1. Pacheco C, Mullen KA, Coutinho T, et al. The Canadian Women’s Heart Health Alliance Atlas on the Epidemiology, Diagnosis, and Management of Cardiovascular Disease in Women - Chapter 5: Sex- and Gender-Unique Manifestations of Cardiovascular Disease. CJC Open. 2022;4(3):243-262.

  2. Steptoe A, Kivimäki M. Stress and cardiovascular disease: an update on current knowledge. Annu Rev Public Health. 2013;34:337-354.

  3. Moukarzel M, Hillier E, Zhang Y. et al. SEX-DIFFERENCES IN STRESS BURDEN AND MARKERS OF CARDIAC INFLAMMATION — A CARDIOVASCULAR MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING STUDY. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2023 Mar, 81 (8_Supplement) 1406.

  4. Sharma N, Chakrabarti S, Grover S. Gender differences in caregiving among family - caregivers of people with mental illnesses. World J Psychiatry. 2016;6(1):7-17.

  5. Connelly PJ, Azizi Z, Alipour P, Delles C, Pilote L, Raparelli V. The Importance of Gender to Understand Sex Differences in Cardiovascular Disease. Can J Cardiol. 2021;37(5):699-710.

  6. Van Dyke M, Greer S, Odom E, et al. Heart Disease Death Rates Among Blacks and Whites Aged ≥35 Years — United States, 1968–2015. MMWR Surveill Summ 2018;67(No. SS-5):1–11. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.ss6705a1

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