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Women and heart disease

For health professionals


Women and heart disease

Key takeaways
  • Heart disease in Australian women is currently under-recognised, under-diagnosed and under-researched.
  • Present efforts are focused on improving diagnosis, treatment and care so that disparities in heart outcomes for women are minimised.
  • Heart disease can occur at any life stage, but the risk increases significantly around menopause.
  • Healthcare professionals should recognise sex-specific risk factors that can increase a woman's risk of cardiovascular disease, including pregnancy complications.
  • We have developed a range of resources to use with your patients.

Coronary heart disease is a significant issue for Australian women. Approximately 20 women die each day of coronary heart disease, killing more than twice as many Australian women as breast cancer. Yet the general perception of heart disease is that it is a male disease.

Research shows that women are much less likely to undergo treatment for heart attack or angina in hospital compared to men. Women experiencing heart attacks take significantly longer to present to hospital for treatment than men do. This is likely due to women having low awareness of their risk for heart disease and of heart attack symptoms. Women also have longer delays in receiving life-saving procedures once they arrive to hospital when compared to men. These delays lead to a greater chance of women experiencing in-hospital complications and poorer outcomes following diagnosis, compared to men.

Fortunately, there is growing recognition of the role sex and gender play in the development of cardiovascular disease, particularly regarding risk factors, pathophysiology, management and outcomes.

This has led to a universal call for:

  • more research into the sex-specific features of cardiovascular disease

  • greater consideration of sex as a determinant in risk assessment and treatment guidelines

  • better education for healthcare professionals in relation to sex and gender differences

  • access to more calibrated decision-making tools.  

The Heart Foundation is committed to improving heart health outcomes for women. We continue to implement a range of actions to raise awareness, develop healthcare professional information and resources and invest in research to address current gaps in knowledge about heart disease in women.

Areas of current research include the vascular complications associated with pregnancy, sudden coronary artery dissection (SCAD) and the issues associated with microvascular disease.

Vascular complications in pregnancy

Until recently, cardiovascular disease risk associated with pregnancy has been poorly acknowledged, researched and understood. Find out how pregnancy complications can contribute to cardiovascular risk in women.

Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD)

SCAD mostly affects women with few traditional risk factors. Being aware of the warning signs of a heart attack and knowing how to respond is important advice for all women. Clinical information on SCAD and resources for your patients can be found, here.

Risk factors and warning signs of a heart attack in women

The risk of cardiovascular disease in women changes throughout life’s course. It is important for the public and healthcare professionals to be aware of the risk factors and heart attack warning signs affecting women. Read more, here

Information for patients

We have a range of useful resources to help you educate and support your patients in managing their cardiovascular disease risk or heart condition.

Our information and resources include:

Reports and statements on women and heart disease

The following resources and links to webinars might be of personal or professional interest:  

Australian reports and editorials
 International reports and statements
  • Heart health: links to cancer treatment – This webinar discusses the link between cancer treatments and the long-term impacts on heart health.

  • Women in Cardiology ESC Congress 2020 - The Heart Foundation, along with the NSW Hearts and Heels Cardiology Roundtable and the Victorian Women in Cardiology group held a digital networking event to replace real time networking at the 2020 European Society of Cardiology Congress meeting in Amsterdam.

  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020. Causes of Death, Australia 2019. Vol. 3303.0.
  2. Khan E, Brieger D, Amerena J, et al. Differences in management and outcomes for men and women with ST-elevation myocardial infarction. Medical Journal of Australia. 2018/08/01 2018;209(3):118-123. doi:
  3. Stehli J, Martin C, Brennan A, Dinh DT, Lefkovits J, Zaman S. Sex differences persist in time to presentation, revascularization, and mortality in myocardial infarction treated with percutaneous coronary intervention. Journal of the American Heart Association. 2019;8(10):e012161. doi:doi: 10.1161/JAHA.119.012161
  4. Mehta LS, Beckie TM, DeVon HA, et al. Acute Myocardial Infarction in Women. Circulation. 2016;133(9):916-947. doi:doi:10.1161/CIR.0000000000000351
  5. Arnett DK, Blumenthal RS, Albert MA, et al. 2019 ACC/AHA Guideline on the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2019;140(11):e596-e646. doi:10.1161/CIR.0000000000000678
  6. Mosca L, Benjamin EJ, Berra K, et al. Effectiveness-Based Guidelines for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease in Women - 2011 update: A guideline from the American Heart Assocation. Circulation. 2011;123(11):1243-1262. doi:doi:10.1161/CIR.0b013e31820faaf8
  7. Wainer Z, Carcel C. Sex and gender in health research: updating policy to reflect evidence. The Medical journal of Australia. 2020/02// 2020;212(2):57-62.e1. doi:10.5694/mja2.50426

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Women and heart disease

Almost every hour of every day an Australian woman dies of coronary heart disease. On average that equates to 20 women a day.1

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Pregnancy and heart disease

Cardiovascular disease risk associated with pregnancy has until recent times been poorly acknowledged, researched and understood. However, we now know:

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Cardiovascular disease risk factors and heart attack warning signs in women

Information for healthcare professionals and the public on cardiovascular disease risk factors and warning signs affecting women.

Last updated13 March 2024