While it’s often seen as a disease of older men, heart disease is the single biggest killer of women in Australia, taking the lives of 24 women every day. According to the Heart Foundation, three times as many Australian women die of heart disease as do from breast cancer, but less than 40% of women are aware that it’s the leading cause. And while the risk increases with age, it’s not just older women who are affected – heart disease is a major cause of premature death and disability.
The good news is that there are many things you can do to prevent heart disease. The majority (over 90%) of Australian women have at least one modifiable risk factor for heart disease and half have two or three risk factors. These include smoking, physical inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Addressing these risk factors will go a long way towards reducing your risk.
What can you do?
- Have a heart health check with your GP. They can check your blood pressure, test your cholesterol and blood glucose levels and talk to you about your family history, weight and lifestyle. Knowing your risk factors is the first step to prevention.
- Build good lifestyle habits. Eat a heart healthy diet, be physically active, don’t smoke, limit alcohol and maintain a healthy weight. According to the Heart Foundation, a heart-healthy diet means eating more plant foods (vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, nuts and seeds); choosing healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocado, olives and their oils; including fish or seafood 2–3 times per week and legumes (lentils and dried beans) at least twice per week; choosing herbs and spices to flavour your food rather than salt; and sticking to water as your main drink. If you’re carrying extra weight, losing weight will help your heart.
- Know the warning signs of a heart attack. Women are less likely than men to experience chest pain when having a heart attack. Symptoms can include pain, pressure, heaviness or tightness in the chest, shoulders, neck, arms, back or jaw, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath and sweating.
For more information: Call the Heart Foundation on 1300 36 27 87 or visit invisiblevisible.org.au