Everything you need to know about women at risk of heart disease

Dont mess with my heart

Women at risk of heart disease

Heart disease is the number one killer of women in Australia and claims four times as many victims as breast cancer every year.


We debunk the myth of the ‘Hollywood attack’, and reveal other common symptoms of heart attack – and how you can reduce your risk of having one.


Taking heart


    If you think heart disease isn’t a problem for women, think again. According to the Heart Foundation of Australia, it’s the number one killer of women in Australia and claims four times as many victims as breast cancer every year2. In fact, the Heart Foundation points out that a female is just as likely to die from a heart attack as a male1.


    The good news is that many of the risk factors are manageable, meaning you can help prevent heart disease by leading a healthy lifestyle: eating low-fat foods, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, monitoring your cholesterol and blood pressure, and not smoking.


    Being able to recognise the warning signs of a heart attack is also vital – the Heart Foundation says people treated within an hour of their first heart attack symptom have the greatest chance of surviving.


    These warning symptoms vary from person to person and may not be sudden or severe. For many women, the typical signs of crushing chest pain and dramatic collapse can be far less pronounced or even completely absent, while other symptoms like shortness of breath, weakness, cold sweats, dizziness, pain in the jaw or back and nausea are often more common.


    “The Hollywood heart attack isn’t real for most people,” explains Professor James Tatoulis, a practicing cardiologist at The Royal Melbourne Hospital. “For women, it more often starts with heaviness in the chest that radiates up the arm and into the jaw, and that becomes progressively worse over five to 15 minutes. Some say it feels like an elephant standing on your chest.


    “In that case, you should definitely call an ambulance. My message is you can die from a heart attack, not from the embarrassment of calling an ambulance if it’s a false alarm.”


    While waiting for an ambulance, Professor Tatoulis recommends lying down and taking an aspirin as soon as possible. Aspirin acts as a blood thinner, thereby reducing the risk of a life-threatening clot in the heart’s arteries.


    “Aspirin is a significant part of ongoing treatment for people with coronary artery disease,” adds Professor Tatoulis.


    For information on heart attacks, visit heartfoundation.org.au or call 1300 362 787.

    References: 1 National Heart Foundation of Australia, heartfoundation.org.au/heart-attack-facts  2 National Heart Foundation of Australia.