With cardiovascular disease (including heart disease and stroke) a leading cause of death for women and men, the Jean Hailes Foundation for Women’s Health is urging women to check their heart risk and know their ‘heart numbers’.
Recent Australian research shows that: Very few women think about heart disease as being a health risk to them. In fact around 40 per cent of female deaths are related to heart disease. Australian women are 1.7 times more likely to die from heart failure than men. This is despite the fact that men are more likely to die at a younger age.
“When it comes to heart health, it’s vital for women at midlife and beyond to know their blood pressure, cholestesterol and blood sugar levels,” says research director Professor Helena Teede.
“See your GP to find out your risk because managing your risk factors can make a significant difference. And if you are aged between 45 and 49 you are entitled to a health check as part of the Australian Better Health Initiative,” she said.
There are differences between what men and women experience in terms of symptoms. Men may feel tightness in the chest, arm pain and shortness of breath, whereas women may experience some of these symptoms, but may also be accompanied by more vague signs including nausea, overwhelming fatigue and dizziness.
“These symptoms can have many other causes, so heart disease is often not uppermost in the minds of women or their health practitioners,” Professor Teede says.
Given the gender differences in the diagnosis of heart disease it is important for general practitioners and women to be aware of these differences and work together to ensure early intervention in women with possible heart disease symptoms.
“Women tend to develop heart disease later in life than men, with hormones appearing to protect the heart prior to menopause,” says Professor Teede.
The latest research from the US-based Women’s Health Study shows that increased levels of exercise can reduce, although not eliminate the risk of heart disease, even in women who remain overweight. According to Professor Teede, 90 per cent of our risk of heart disease is related to how we live our daily lives and that regular physical activity is very beneficial in preventing heart attack and stroke.
“We know that just five per cent weight loss has a significant improvement in health. Even small changes in risk factors for heart disease and stroke can make a difference,” she says. “Not eating one biscuit each day can save you putting on nearly a kilo over a year.”
A five per cent weight loss for an 80-90kg woman is just 4-4.5kg. “Try losing just one kilo a month and you can achieve this over 4-5 months.”
Professor Teede lists five ways women can reduce their risk of developing heart disease:
- Eat a healthy diet
- Ensure moderate alcohol intake
- Be physically active every day
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Don’t smoke
To find out more information and practical tips about healthy eating, alcohol intake and physical activity log on to www.jeanhailes.org.au
Further heart health information is available from the National Heart Foundation on 1300 36 27 87.