The University of Ottawa Heart Institute has launched the Canadian Women's Heart Health Centre, which it says is the first of its kind in Canada.

Diane Burton, heart disease survivor

Diane Burton says she always worried about her husband's heart health more than her own, until she suffered a heart attack at 54 years old. (CBC)

The centre will work on prevention, diagnosis and treatment of heart disease, which cardiologists say is the number one killer of women over the age of 35.

Dr. Michele Turek, the medical advisor for the new centre, says she has watched the number of female patients soar in recent years.

"When I started out in practice as a cardiologist a few years ago, most of my patients were men," she said. "I can tell you, there's been an incredible turnaround because now it is at least 50-50, if not more women."

Turek said heart disease remains "the leading cause of death, disability and hospitalization for women in Canada." Risk factors include poor diet and lack of exercise.

Woman ignored fatigue, pains

Diane Burton wants other women to take heart disease seriously. The mother of two and former public servant had a heart attack at 54. She said she ignored fatigue and pains for four days before she realized her situation was an emergency.

"If I had continued to ignore it, I may not be here today," Burton said, describing a 99 per cent blockage of her heart.

Burton's husband's father died after a massive heart attack at the age of 52 and she was always more worried about her husband’s heart health.

But cardiologists say heart disease is the number one killer of women over the age of 35 and heart attacks go unrecognized in women up to 54 per cent of the time.

The chance of dying within the first year of a heart attack is also 50 per cent greater among women than men. Burton said that is because women often downplay their own symptoms.

The University of Ottawa Heart Institute wants to change those statistics, so it launched the new centre to focus on helping women find information and support. 

It will work with women who have a high risk of developing heart disease and with those already dealing with cardiovascular problems.

It also plans to reach out to health partners across the country to share its message and resources. A main focus is prevention.