Myth 1: Heart disease is a man’s disease
Busted: Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in Australia. Heart disease claims 24 female lives every day (8,750 deaths in 2013). Heart disease is responsible for 12 per cent of all deaths in Australian women and almost 14 per cent of deaths in Australian men. Despite women with heart disease, on average, spending longer in hospital than men, more is spent on men per hospital stay than women, approximately 20 per cent ($8,685 for women per hospital stay compared to $10,368 for men).
Myth 2: Signs of heart attacks in women are easy to spot
Busted: One reason heart attack in women is so dangerous is that women often don’t know the symptoms and therefore don’t seek medical treatment. According to Heart Foundation research less than 40 per cent of women experience chest pain while having heart attacks. In fact, women are more likely to suffer the a-typical symptoms such as shortness of breath, upper back pressure or discomfort, flu-like symptoms, weakness and lightheadedness, all of which can be subtle and easily mistaken for other health conditions. If you’re witnessing or experiencing such symptoms, don’t hesitate to call Triple Zero (000).
Myth 3: Women are more likely to survive heart attacks
Busted: While heart attacks are not always fatal, women are just as likely as men to die after experiencing a heart attack. Each year 36,000 men and 19,000 women are admitted to hospital after a heart attack while annual death rates of men and women number 4,541 and 4,070 respectively. It’s thought the reason for this may be that women are less likely to receive proper post-heart attack medications, such as ACE inhibitors, beta blockers and aspirin. They are also less likely to be referred to a cardiac rehabilitation program.
Myth 4: Heart disease only occurs in older women
Busted: Whilst it’s true that a woman’s heart disease risk does increase significantly after menopause, heart disease can start building from a very young age, especially in those with genetic predispositions like hypercholesterolemia. Still, each year heart disease is attributable to 6.4 per cent of deaths for women under 54 years. A woman’s smoking status, her blood pressure, blood cholesterol, weight, diet and how physically active she is all contribute to her risk of heart disease.
Myth 5: Active women don’t get heart disease
Busted: Exercise does reduce a woman’s risk for heart disease, but doesn’t make her risk free. Even women who exercise regularly can have other heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a poor diet, smoking, being overweight, having diabetes, being post-menopausal, or having a family history. However women who performed strenuous physical activity - enough to cause sweating or a faster heart beat -- two to three times per week are about 20 per cent less likely to develop heart disease, strokes or blood clots compared to participants who reported little or no activity.
Go Red for Women is the Heart Foundation’s annual awareness and fundraising campaign that shines a light on the area of heart disease in women. It’s our attempt to save the lives of Aussie women from this debilitating, chronic disease. Find out more about how you too can make a difference at goredforwomen.org.au.