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REDFEB – getting to the heart of women and heart disease

Heart disease kills more than two times as many Australian women than breast cancer.

“Despite heart disease being a leading cause of death in women, only one in five Australian women are aware of this,” says Nicci Dent, CEO of Heart Research Australia (HRA). “This highlights a huge gap in understanding and the need to raise awareness about the different symptoms and risks for women. Many women dismiss early warning signs because they think heart disease mainly affects older men.”

February is REDFEB – heart awareness month – and HRA is encouraging people to wear red and donate money for research. It is also promoting new resources that highlight the differences in heart disease symptoms, prevention and management for both men and women.

Cardiologist Dr Ashleigh Dind says, “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.”

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.

Ms Dent says awareness is critical to ensure women can advocate for their own health.

“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 …”

Dr Dind says it is important for women to create healthy habits before they reach menopause because their risk of developing heart disease will accelerate due to the menopausal decline in oestrogen and the hormone’s protective effects.

“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.”

New resources from HRA include two educational videos and a free wallet card that outline the different signs and symptoms of a heart attack for both men and women, plus a “Heart Attack Action Plan” to use should the situation arise.

“The simple fact is that research saves lives,” says Ms Dent, “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.”

Getting involved with REDFEB is as simple as wearing RED for someone close to your heart and donating. These simple steps will raise money for life-saving research, raise awareness for heart disease and help keep families together for longer.

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For more information on REDFEB and to donate, visit: www.heartresearch.com.au

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