Taking heart

One Australian woman dies of a heart attack every two hours1, yet many women do not know they’re at risk – or even how to recognise the warning signs.

Words: Ian Neubauer

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 practising cardiologist at The Royal Melbourne Hospital. “For women, it more often starts with a 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.


Help for members with heart disease

Australian Unity members suffering from coronary artery disease may qualify for Australian Unity’s Healthy Heart Program*. A free telephone service run by a team of Accredited Practising Dietitians, the program dispenses information and offers counselling on diet, physical activities, medications and cardiovascular risk factors, such as high cholesterol and diabetes.

To find out more, call Australian Unity on 13 29 39.

*To be eligible for the program, you must have been diagnosed with coronary artery disease and/or had a cardiac event such as a heart attack, angioplasty or insertion of a stent. Available with all Hospital and Combination covers except Budget Hospital, Care ’n Repair, Smart Start and Overseas Visitors Cover. Terms of particular cover apply, including 12-month membership waiting period.

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

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

Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.