Heart disease is the biggest killer of women. Watch these symptoms

Heart disease is the biggest killer of women in Australia, and yet, most of what is known about the symptoms relates to men. The disease is largely under-diagnosed, under-treated and under-researched in women. 

This week (May 6 to 10) is national Heart Week in Australia, an important time for awareness as one woman loses their life from heart disease every hour. On average, that equates to 20 women each day.

Globally, heart disease will affect 1 in 3 women, but research has shown that women are much less likely to undergo treatment for heart attack in hospitals compared to men. 

Many heart attack symptoms in women go unnoticed. About 40 per cent of women won’t experience severe chest pain– a common warning sign of a heart attack in men. 

With most heart disease research being conducted in men, clinical guidelines, symptoms checklists and treatments are often more tailored to men than women. 

Therefore it’s critical to increase awareness of female specific signs of a heart attack so that women can seek immediate medical attention. 

Common heart attack symptoms in women

Rather than severe chest pain, women will often experience a heaviness in the chest that goes up to the throat and jaw and through to the back and shoulder blades when a heart attack is occuring. Other common symptoms are feeling short of breath, sweaty, lightheaded, feeling a “flutter” or racing of the heart as well as extreme fatigue and nausea. 

Women who experience these symptoms should get immediate medical attention by calling triple zero (000). 

Australia’s only female-focussed heart health charity, Her Heart, has come out with a new resource to support women in recognising these heart attack symptoms as soon as possible. They’ve created a free downloadable wallet card, with a list of common symptoms and information on what to do in an emergency. 

The longer that women delay seeking medical treatment for a heart attack, the greater the risk of heart muscle damage. 

Following a heart attack, there are also gender disparities in the recovery process as women are less likely to attend cardiac rehabilitation, less likely to take their medicine regularly and less likely to make heart healthy lifestyle changes. 

Easy strategies to support heart health

When it comes to looking after heart health, some easy everyday strategies that Her Heart recommends are for women to prioritise exercise, sleep and healthy eating. 

This means women should try to engage in 30 minutes a day of exercise, such as walking, to reduce the risk of heart disease by 30 per cent, and aim for 7-8 hours of sleep every night. 

The Sleep Health Foundation has women’s focused resources for all stages of life, such as during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, motherhood and menopause. 

Quitting smoking can reduce the risk of heart disease by 50 per cent in one year. Quitline is a resource that can help with this process.

Her Heart also recommends to watch portion sizes and eat nourishing foods such as: high fibre foods (including oats and legumes), two pieces of fruit and seven serves of vegetables, reduced salt, three serves of fish per week, reducing saturated fats (such as chicken with skin on, baked goods, fried foods) whilst choosing more lean proteins such as tofu and trimmed meats. 

Relaxation is key as well, especially considering the higher mental load that women tend to carry.  Taking time for oneself, keeping connected with friends and family and trying out activities such as meditation are all recommended by experts. Beyond Blue has a helpful resource page for managing stress levels, and some meditation apps to try could include, Smiling Mind, Headspace and Calm. 


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