This February is REDFEB, Heart Awareness Month. Heart Research Australia is encouraging people to wear red and donate to support life-saving heart research. The organisation is also promoting new resources highlighting the differences in heart disease symptoms, prevention and management for men and women.
Heart disease is Australia’s single biggest cause of death, killing an Australian every thirty minutes. More men die from heart disease than women, but it’s still one of the leading causes of death in Australian women, and aspects of its prevention, treatment and management are unique to women.
Nicci Dent, CEO of Heart Research Australia, said only one in five Australian women are aware that heart disease is a leading cause of death in the female population.
‘This highlights a huge gap in understanding and the need to raise awareness about the different symptoms and risks for women,’ she said.
‘Many women dismiss early warning signs because they think heart disease mainly affects older men.’
Cardiologist Dr Ashleigh Dind said, ‘Many of the symptoms women experience may not be recognised as heart disease, thus increasing the likelihood of a missed diagnosis.
‘Although men suffering from a heart attack typically describe chest pain or discomfort, women are more likely to have non-chest pain symptoms such as shortness of breath, weakness, fatigue and indigestion, and frequently with worse consequences.’
Heart Research Australia said physicians are also more likely to underestimate heart disease risk in women and this can influence their diagnosis and treatment.
Research finds that younger women aged under 55 with acute coronary syndrome (heart attacks and/or angina) are more likely to be misdiagnosed and discharged from emergency departments than men.
‘Awareness is critical so that women can advocate for their own health,’ said Nicci Dent. ‘Professor Gemma Figtree’s latest research (partially funded by Heart Research Australia), showed women who had a heart attack with no modifiable risk factors had a mortality rate three times that of men with at least one risk factor.
‘Although more men than women are admitted to hospital experiencing a heart attack, the number of deaths are the same and heart disease kills more than twice as many Australian women than breast cancer,’ she said.
According to Dr Ashleigh Dind, ‘Women are generally more at risk of heart disease after menopause. As women reach their fifties and navigate menopause, their risk factors for heart disease are more likely to increase as the protection they have received from oestrogen declines.’
Dr Dind explains that oestrogen plays an important role within women’s bodies.
‘One of the many things oestrogen helps do is keep the blood vessels in the body stable and functioning well,’ she said.
‘With less oestrogen, women are more likely to develop plaque in the arteries surrounding the heart or have this plaque rupture, increasing the risk of a heart attack. Oestrogen also has beneficial effects on sugar regulation and insulin.
‘Therefore, it is very important for women to create healthy habits BEFORE they reach menopause as that is when their risk of developing heart disease will accelerate,’ said Dr Dind.
‘Women should try to keep up their lean muscle mass because menopause can also cause a change in their body composition, which means their fat mass can increase. Exercising, following a healthy diet and not smoking can all help prevent that escalation in risk.
‘Although it isn’t common for younger women to experience heart disease, it can occur, so it is important to follow a healthy lifestyle at any age,’ she said.
Free resources launched
REDFEB aims to raise awareness for heart disease and funds for life-saving research.
This year Heart Research Australia is promoting new resources including two educational videos and a wallet card outlining the different signs and symptoms of a heart attack for both men and women, plus a ‘Heart Attack Action Plan’ should the situation arise.
Nicci Dent said, ‘The new resources are free to all Australians, but any financial support towards our life saving research will be gratefully received.
‘The simple fact is that research saves lives, which is why Heart Research Australia funds world-class and emerging researchers to conduct ground-breaking research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of heart disease,’ she said.
This February, Heart Research Australia invites all Australians to wear RED for someone close to their heart to help keep families together for longer. Whether it’s a family member, wife, husband, or that special friend who means the world to them, or in memory of someone they loved who sadly passed away due to heart disease.
For more information on REDFEB and to donate, please visit: www.heartresearch.com.au.