What you need to know today

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Quiz | Open your eyes to the importance of heart health

Woman smiling with her kids

Think heart disease is a male-only issue? Think again. It’s actually a major women’s health concern. 
Together, let’s unpack the importance of protecting your cardiovascular system, and keep our hearts pumping with positive health.
  1. Cardiovascular disease kills more women in Australia than breast cancer

    Dying from breast cancer is a very common fear for women, but in reality, it is cardiovascular disease that poses a far greater threat. 

    Cardiovascular disease – which includes heart attack, heart failure and stroke – kills more than four times  as many women than breast cancer, and is the number-one cause of death of women in Australia. 

    Yes – you read that right. Cardiovascular disease is the number-one killer of women in Australia.

  2. A heart attack happens just like in the movies: it’s sudden and dramatic, you get severe crushing chest pain

    Hollywood hasn’t done female heart health any favours. 

    In movies and on TV, the characters who have heart attacks are almost always male, white and working in a high-powered job. Storylines of women with heart disease are few and far between – and this is one reason why heart disease is often misunderstood as a male-only problem.

    On top of this, real heart attacks can look and feel very differently to how they’re presented on screen. Symptoms such as chest pain can range from mild to severe, they can last several minutes, or they can come and go.

    In fact, many people are able to go about their day while unknowingly having a heart attack, all the while causing significant damage to their heart muscle and cardiovascular system.  

  3. Women often have different heart attacks symptoms compared to men

    Rather than the chest pain men often feel, women may experience breathlessness, nausea, back pain, jaw pain, tightness or discomfort in the arms, shortness of breath or a general feeling of being unwell. 

    Women can feel pain or discomfort in the centre of the chest when having a heart attack, but not always. 

    That’s why it’s important to know all the symptoms of a heart attack and recognise that, for women, it often goes beyond the stereotype we see on screen. 

  4. Women wait longer than men in seeking treatment for a heart attack

    Research shows that when women are having a heart attack, they tend to wait longer than men to call an ambulance or to go to hospital. 

    One study found that on average, women wait about 54 hours to seek treatment, compared with about 16 hours for men.

    Researchers believe this longer delay time is because women think they are not at risk of a heart attack, or they think the symptoms are due to something less serious. There’s also evidence that women tend to put the health of others ahead of their own. 

    When men have chest pain, health professionals often hear them say it was their wife/female partner who urged them to go to the emergency room, but what happens when the tables are turned? 

    The lesson: take steps to reduce your risk of heart disease, know the symptoms of a heart attack and put your health first.

  5. Even some healthcare professionals can underestimate heart disease in women

    Several studies have shown that, much like the general population, even healthcare professionals can dismiss how deadly heart disease is for women.

    Recent Australian research  showed that women with heart disease were less likely to receive high-quality healthcare from professionals compared to men with heart disease. Women were less likely to be prescribed recommended medications and less likely to receive routine checks such as a blood test for lipids (fats).

    Also, women with stroke are more likely to have a delay in care compared to men, and are less likely to be prescribed treatments such as aspirin, statins or clot-busters (thrombolytics). 

    The take-home advice for women is to know your risk and work towards decreasing it. If you are diagnosed with heart disease, double-check with your doctor that you receive all the advice, tests and medications you need to keep your heart as healthy as possible.

  6. More women than men die of stroke

    A stroke occurs when a blood vessel to your brain get blocked by a clot or bleeds. And it’s a life-threatening emergency.

    According to a 2016 Australian Government report, around 4900 females die each year from stroke compared to 3200 males. 

    This difference is largely due to the fact that women tend to have strokes when they are older, so the impact is more severe. However, researchers say there are other factors specific to women’s health that are at play.  

    The good news is, just like other types of heart disease, stroke is largely preventable because many of its risk factors are changeable, such as high blood pressure, physical inactivity, being overweight and smoking.

  7. The female hormone oestrogen helps heart health

    Oestrogen is a hard-working hormone. Not only limited to our reproductive and bone health, oestrogen affects almost every tissue in the body, including the cardiovascular system. 

    Research  shows that oestrogen helps to protect our blood vessels and to keep our cholesterol levels normal.  It is a true heart-health helper.

    This is of course wonderful news, but there is a ‘but’… when women reach menopause, levels of oestrogen – and the heart protection it provides – falls dramatically, and our risk of heart disease shoots up. It’s not the only reason why risk of heart disease increases so greatly in women after menopause, but it’s a big one. 

  8. There are many things you can do to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease

    There are some things that increase our risk of heart disease that we can't do much about, such as our age, sex and family history. But there are many other factors that are within our power to change.

    In fact, more than 90% of women in Australia have at least one risk factor they can improve upon, and 50% of all women have two or three.

    So what steps do you need to take to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease? That’s what today’s topic is all about. 

  9. Nice work!

    You got out of 8 correct

Today’s top resources

A strong foundation starts with the basics, so let’s ask some important questions...

Cardiovascular health fact sheet

What is cardiovascular health? What are the different types of cardiovascular disease and how can they be managed? Get the facts by downloading today's top resource.

View the resource

Healthy living fact sheet

Healthy food can lower your risk of developing health problems and help manage issues such as heart disease and diabetes, but how do you know what's healthy and what's not?

Tips for healthy eating

Heart Age Calculator

You know your actual age, but what is the age of your heart? Calculate it here with the Heart Foundation's Heart Age Calculator and understand what contributes to your risk of heart disease.

Work it out

Heart health check: top of the list

A heart health check is the all-important first step in knowing your risk of cardiovascular disease and the best way to side-step it. 

Heart disease happens on the inside – it’s a silent killer. You may look and feel 100%; however, these checks give you and your doctor important insight and pinpoint any issues early on – even before you may be aware of them – when they can be more easily and effectively treated. 

A heart health check can be easily done at your local doctor’s office. Due to COVID-19 or other reasons, perhaps it may have been a while since your last check-up. So, this week, during Women’s Health Week, it’s time to get back on course and make an appointment.

Here are the health checks you need to look after your cardiovascular health, and how often you need them.

  1. Blood pressure check – every 2 years after you turn 18.
  2. A blood test to check cholesterol levels – every 5 years after you turn 45, or more often if at higher risk.
  3. A blood test to check for diabetes – every 3 years after you turn 40, or more often if at higher risk.
  4. Weight check – every 1 to 2 years.

If you are aged 45 years+ (or 35 years+ if you are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage), it’s recommended that you see your doctor for regular heart health checks. 

Your doctor may also ask you about your family history of heart disease and lifestyle habits – such as if you smoke, your levels of physical activity and stress – to assess your overall risk. 

Hormones & heart disease

If there was a team called ‘Heart Health’, the hormone oestrogen would be a star player. 

Not only linked to bone health and reproduction, oestrogen helps us maintain healthy cholesterol levels. 

It also keeps our artery walls flexible (your arteries are a type of blood vessel) so they are better able to relax and expand when blood flows through. 

And – as if that wasn’t enough! – this helpful hormone aids in the formation of new blood vessels and fights off dangers and damage to the blood vessels such as scarring (fibrosis) and free radicals.

Because of the positive powers of oestrogen, younger women have a much lower risk of developing heart disease, as their oestrogen levels are higher.

But – much like a seesaw – when women reach menopause (commonly at 45-55 years of age), oestrogen drops and stays at very low levels. This dramatically increases the risk of heart disease.

Our declining hormones are not the only reason why heart disease risk increases for mid-life women, but it’s important for all women to know it’s a risk factor – particularly if you have an early menopause.

Remember it's like a seesaw: when hormones fall, your risk for heart disease rises.

What a heart attack feels like

In this video, hear about a real-life account of a heart attack from a woman who has lived through it and the steps she took to improve her health.

5-minute risk checker

This 5-minute health questionnaire from HealthDirect will help assess your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and kidney disease, and also give you practical tips on how to lower your risks.

How to spot the signs of stroke

Stroke happens when a blood vessel to the brain gets blocked by a clot, or bursts. Stroke is a medical emergency, so seek help without delay. Receiving the correct treatment as soon as possible can make a big difference in a person’s recovery.

Woman in her garden

To help you to remember how to recognise the signs of stroke, and what to do, just think: FAST.  

Face – Check their face. Has their mouth drooped?
Arms – Can they lift both arms?
Speech – Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
Time – Time is critical. Call 000 straight away. 

What is a TIA?

A TIA is a transient ischemic attack. Some people call it a ‘minor stroke’ or a ‘mini stroke’. It happens when a clot blocks an artery temporarily.

The signs of a TIA are the same as a stroke, but they disappear within a short time. Often, the signs are there for just a few minutes. 

Even though things appear to go back to normal after a TIA, don’t ignore it. After a TIA, your risk of stroke is higher, especially in the first few hours and days. Call 000 straight away.

Is stroke preventable?

Yes. More than 80% of strokes can be prevented.

It starts with getting a heart health check to assess your risk factors and taking charge of your own health by living a healthy lifestyle.

That means: 

  • keeping blood pressure in the normal range 
  • being physically active
  • eating a healthy diet
  • not smoking
  • drinking alcohol only in moderation, or not at all.  

Video stream starting in...

Finding time for physical activity... in a busy life

Now it’s time to get to the heart of the matter. Being physically active is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Join us today as Women’s Health week ambassador and founder of bike riding group Wheel Women, Tina McCarthy, sits down for a chat with Sheree Hughes of the Heart Foundation. 

Movement & motivation

Many of us know that being physically active is one of the best ways to reduce our risk of heart disease. But how do you stay motivated and make physical activity a regular, and enjoyable, part of your life?

Tina McCarthy

Tina McCarthy (pictured above), founder of the cycling group Wheel Women and a proud Women’s Health Week ambassador, knows all about the importance of physical activity and cardiovascular health, having a family history of heart disease and a heart condition herself.

She tells us her story about how she has made physical activity a regular part of her life and how she stays motivated.

Eat your heart out

No measuring or weighing of ingredients, no strict rules or secret weapons. This heart-healthy diet is backed by solid evidence - and even better, it celebrates food and flavour with simple ingredients, seasonal produce and sensational taste. Sound too good to be true?

The good news on nuts

Who knew that a delicious afternoon snack could come with such heart-healthy benefits?

Research has finally shrugged off their ‘bad-boy’ image and found that eating a handful of nuts daily is linked with a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, as well as cancer, even with as little as one serving per week.

Get the good news on nuts.

Rosemary-roasted spiced nuts

Today’s recipe combines the sweet and savoury elements of maple syrup and antioxidant-rich herbs.

Balanced with the saltiness of tamari, this recipe makes for a very moreish (and heart-healthy) snack. Perfect to have on hand at work, at home or in your handbag.

Heart-healthy tips & tools

Top tips for heart health

Browse our Cardiovascular health webpages to learn more about heart health and get research-based information on preventing and managing heart disease.

Dive in

Time to kick the habit

What’s one way to reduce your risk of heart disease? Stop smoking, or never start. Breathe easier and visit Quit to get free tools to help you kick the habit.

Visit Quit website

Rethinking drinking

Did you know that alcohol is more harmful for women than men, and increases the risk of heart disease, cancer and early death? Read what the research reveals and get tips for curbing your intake.

Get informed

Open up the latest issue

The latest digital edition of the Jean Hailes Magazine awaits, brimming with feature articles, health information and delicious recipes.

Are your health checks up to date?

Our illustrated Health checks e-Booklet is your personal guide to the different health checks required through the journey of life.

Explore and learn more...

Her Heart checklist

Download the Her Heart checklist to fill out and take your doctor. Start a conversation about your heart health today.

Download it here

Heart-healthy recipes

Discover delicious and nutritious heart-healthy recipes on the Jean Hailes website, just like this Shiitake & miso noodle soup.

Get cooking

Calling all Queenslanders

Queensland’s program ‘My health for life’ is a free, healthy lifestyle program helping Queensland women (and men) to live well. Check out their quick and easy online health check.

Learn more

Make your moves count

Challenge yourself! Join us in making our way around Australia during Women's Health Week 2020.

We’re encouraging you to make your moves count. Join us to collectively travel 16,500 kms ⁠— the equivalent of 22 million steps ⁠— around Australia. You can choose your own distance and cover it your own way, at your own pace, while sharing your efforts online and raising funds for Jean Hailes.

Cardio workout

Get your body moving today with a cardio workout by one of our Women's Health Week ambassadors, Sam Wood.

Sam is a qualified personal trainer, with a Bachelor of Exercise Science degree and Certificate 3 and 4 in Fitness.

Do not start this fitness program if your physician or health care provider advises against it. If you experience faintness, dizziness, pain or shortness of breath at any time while exercising you should stop immediately and speak to your doctor. Jean Hailes for Women’s Health will not be liable for any injury, loss or damage arising out of or related to the use of the video.

Download the Women's Health Week eCard to share. Don't forget to use the hashtag #WomensHealthWeek.

Illustration by Tonia Composto.

Tell us what you think

We'd love to hear your thoughts on Women's Health Week 2020 - what you liked, what you didn’t, and what you want to see more of next year.