Making the Invisible Visible – Putting the spotlight firmly on heart disease in women

News /

Share this

Angela Hehir

Heart Foundation - Manager Women and Heart Disease

Only 35% of Australian women know that heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death for women, and has been so since 1950. 

In June as part of Making the Invisible Visible, the Heart Foundation wants all women to take notice, not just the 225,000 Australian women living with heart disease every day.

In Australia 90% of women have at least one risk factor for heart disease, with 50% having two or three. This statistic alone should encourage all Australian women of all ages to take charge of their heart health.

Heart disease in women is often under recognised, under treated, and under researched. Women have not been largely represented in research and clinical trials related to heart disease and there is limited understanding of the warning signs and symptoms of heart related conditions as they occur in both men and women.

As a result, there exists subtle yet significant implications for women highlighting that heart conditions, particularly amongst women, are very much a hidden and often life threatening health issue.

It means that women often don’t perceive themselves at risk of heart disease and are less likely to have heart health checks, can be slower to act on worrying symptoms and are more likely to delay in calling an ambulance until it’s too late. This perception of heart disease can also lead to delays in diagnosis and treatment.

The latest research highlights that close to half a million women are at high risk of having a heart attack in the next five years, with an additional 200,000 at moderate risk. Add to this that two million women have high blood pressure, a leading risk factor for heart disease, but only one in three are managing this risk or making lifestyle changes to reduce risk.

Taking preventative action and seeing your GP is a must, and don’t assume the first sign will be clutching your chest. Heart Foundation research shows just over half of the women who have a heart attack experienced chest pain; women also experienced symptoms less commonly associated with having a heart attack such as breathlessness, nausea and arm or jaw pain.

Furthermore, when women present for medical attention, the warning signs may not be recognised leading to delays in diagnosis and treatment.  Delays in seeking treatment, diagnosis and management contribute to the higher mortality rates experienced by women following a heart attack compared to men. On discharge from hospital, the implications of poor awareness continue to play out. Women are less likely to be referred to cardiac rehabilitation programs for information on nutrition, physical activity and treatment advice. They are also less likely than men to continue to take their medication long term and less likely to make the lifestyle changes necessary to live well with heart disease.

Research into the prevention, causes and treatment of heart disease has historically largely been conducted on men, with findings applied to women. It is only in the last 10 years that there has been increased recognition of the subtle but important gender differences that influence how women experience heart disease and how they may respond differently to treatment.

The Heart Foundation’s response to this as a health concern amongst women is to find new ways of communicating to women the importance of their own heart health. Supporting more investment in research, and more gender analysis of findings related to prevention, treatment and management of heart disease, are also priorities for addressing this important women’s health issue.

This June, the Heart Foundation is asking everybody, male and female to take charge of their own heart health. Knowing your own personal risk is the first step to avoiding heart disease, and it is as simple as visiting your GP and asking for a heart health check.

It could save your life, and the lives of the women you know and love.