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‘Lethal stereotype’: half a million at-risk women miss out on heart meds
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‘Lethal stereotype’: half a million at-risk women miss out on heart meds

Media Release - 26 August 2021

Nearly half a million Australian women at high risk of a heart attack or stroke are not on necessary medications, prompting a fresh plea not to put off check-ups during COVID-19 restrictions.

The Heart Foundation warns 445,000 women who could be a ticking time bomb for a heart event are not being treated with both the recommended blood pressure and cholesterol medicines.

More than one in three high-risk female patients – nearly 228,000 – are on neither medication.

New modelling by the heart health charity reveals what’s at stake if this treatment gap continues.

Up to 21,200 heart events could be prevented over the next five years if these 445,000 women aged 45-74 were treated with both blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medications, the figures show.

Furthermore, this move could avoid close to $300 million in hospitalisation costs alone.

Heart Foundation Director of Health Strategy, Julie Anne Mitchell, says heart conditions in women remain under-recognised and under-treated.

“If we could close this treatment gap, it could spare thousands of Australian women from the physical, emotional and financial toll of a heart attack or stroke, while reducing ongoing pressure on the health system,” Ms Mitchell said.

“A common misconception is this is a disease that only affects older men, but the reality is cardiovascular disease accounts for one in four female deaths.

This can be a lethal stereotype, with women being less likely to discuss heart health with their GP than men and slower to act on warning signs of a heart attack.

“It’s a big concern, because women often fare worse after a heart attack and are less likely to be prescribed medications to manage their condition or attend cardiac rehabilitation.”

An estimated 2.9 million Australian women have high blood pressure and 3.5 million have high cholesterol, yet Heart Foundation research suggests women are less likely than men to have spoken with their GP about blood pressure (49% versus 53%) or cholesterol (42% versus 48%).

These ‘silent killers’ are risk factors GPs monitor and manage as part of Heart Health Checks – the appointment Australians are urged not to skip as the country grapples with COVID-19 outbreaks.

“Australians are understandably worried about COVID-19, but heart disease doesn’t stop during a pandemic,” Ms Mitchell said.

“That’s why we’re asking women aged 45 and over, and Indigenous women from age 30, not to delay seeing their GP for a Heart Health Check. And if you’re living with heart disease, it’s vital that you continue to monitor your heart health and keep up regular appointments with your doctor.

“With too many women missing out on medications to manage their risk of a heart attack or stroke, there has never been a more important time to keep on top of your heart health.”

The Heart Foundation says more action is needed to put the focus on women and heart disease.

“All high-risk female patients should be getting the right support and ongoing care they need to avoid becoming a heart disease statistic, but that’s simply not happening,” Ms Mitchell said.

“More must be done to raise awareness of the risks and symptoms of cardiovascular disease in women, and what women and their doctors can do to ensure those at risk are detected early and managed appropriately.”

The modelling is based on the latest population and biomedical health survey data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, with cost data from the AIHW health expenditure database.

Media enquiries

Brigid Simeoni, Media Advisor
M: 0427 619 589 E: brigid.simeoni@heartfoundation.org.au

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