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Risk factors for women
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Risk factors for women

In Australia, 90% of women have one risk factor for heart disease, and 50% have two or more.

Key takeaways

  • The most common risk factors affecting women are high cholesterol, being overweight and physical inactivity.
  • Heart disease can occur at any age, but the risk increases significantly around menopause.
  • Research has shown that just over half of women who have a heart attack experienced chest pain. However for many others, only non-chest symptoms like breathlessness, nausea and arm or jaw pain.
2 min read

Nearly 3 times as many women die of heart disease than breast cancer. Every day, 22 women lose their lives to this condition.

In Australia, 90% of women have one risk factor for heart disease, and 50% have two or more.
But we plan to change that. Many of these risk factors can be reduced with lifestyle changes.

Common questions about risk factors for women 

Are there some risk factors women are more likely to have?

The most common risk factors affecting women are high cholesterol, being overweight and physical inactivity.

Smoking and poorly controlled diabetes can pose a greater risk of heart disease for women than they do for men.

Complications during pregnancy, like preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, can increase a woman's risk of heart disease later in life.

If you experienced either of these conditions, tell your healthcare professional so they can monitor your heart health.

More information about pregnancy and heart disease.

When is a woman's risk of heart disease greatest?

Heart disease can occur at any age, but the risk increases significantly around menopause.

It is not clear why women tend to get heart disease at a later age than men. However, it is thought that a drop in women’s oestrogen levels, as well as other changes that occur around this time, may be part of the reason.
If you are over 45*, it is important to have a heart health check to understand your personal risk of developing heart disease.

With the right information, you can take active steps to lower your risk.
*Over 30 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

What are the risk factors for younger women? 

Risk factors for heart disease can start early in a woman’s life. 

Eating healthily, doing regular physical activity and being smoke-free are important behaviours for young women to keep their hearts healthy.

Physical inactivity and poor food choices can have a significant impact on a woman’s health. 

Learn more about risk factors and how to control them. 

Does the use of oral contraception increase heart disease risk?

For young women oral contraceptives are usually safe.

However women who smoke while they take the contraceptive pill greatly increase their risk of heart disease, stroke and blood clots in their legs and lungs. Having a family history of cardiovascular disease will also add to this risk.

For young women with a known history of heart or blood vessel disease, it's best to discuss the use of oral contraception with your doctor first.

Does Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) prevent heart disease?

HRT, which includes oestrogen replacement, has been used for many years to treat short-term menopausal symptoms.

In some women, depending on their GP’s advice, HRT has also been used after menopause for those with osteoporosis.

There has been a lot of research into the effects of HRT on the development of heart disease and based on this research the Heart Foundation does not recommend Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) in the treatment or prevention of heart disease. 

Before commencing HRT women should discuss the risks and benefits of the therapy with their GP.

What are the warning signs of a heart attack in women?

Research has shown that just over half of women who have a heart attack experienced chest pain.

However for many others, only non-chest symptoms like breathlessness, nausea and arm or jaw pain.

It’s important to know the full range of heart attack warning signs and act quickly by calling 000 if you think something is wrong. 

Warning signs of a heart attack for women action plan.

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