Australian women need to be heart smart

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Adjunct Professor John Kelly, AM

CEO-National, Heart Foundation John joined the Heart Foundation in August 2016. Previous to that, he led sector reform for aged care as CEO of Aged and Community Services Australia. He has extensive clinical, management and consulting background in the health sector, including previous careers in law and in cardiac nursing and current academic appointments with the Sydney Nursing School and the University of Technology, Sydney.

Every hour, a mother, daughter, sister or grandmother dies as a result of heart disease.

Heart disease is a factor in one in every five deaths of Australian women. It kills three times more women than breast cancer, and is responsible for the deaths of more than 100,000 women over the past decade.

But many women are unaware they are at risk of this silent killer, and are not always as alert to the symptoms as they should be. This is particularly the case when it comes to heart attacks.  While both men and women can have chest pain, non-chest pain symptoms such as jaw, back or arm pain can be more common in women making it difficult to detect.  As a consequence, women are also slower to seek help, there are often delays in their diagnosis and treatment that in turn can lead to poorer health outcomes than in men.

The Heart Foundation’s June campaign, Making the Invisible Visible, focuses on women and heart disease. We want to support women in understanding the risks and symptoms of heart disease and prioritise this focus in the same way they do their breast health.

A general heart health check with a doctor is an important baseline for any person to know their personal risk. Risk factors such as lifestyle, family history and clinical factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol will all be checked during a general heart health check.

Juggling different commitments means many women struggle to find the time or energy to look after themselves, or even make a doctor’s appointment. But half of all women have two or three modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease. We encourage you to do something about it by making a commitment to:

  • See your GP for a heart health check.
  • Learn the warning signs of a heart attack – chest pain is not the only sign.
  • Encourage others to do the same – by doing so you will be protecting the hearts of the women you know and love.

The Heart Foundation is successfully implementing specific programs to target these issues, working with the community but also with health professionals, health service providers and researchers to improve survival rates of heart disease. Support for survivors is also an important service that the Heart Foundation provides in patients’ journey to recovery.

The challenges are great but together we can make a difference.

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