NSW women and heart disease

NSW women and heart disease

Our work in combating heart disease in Australian women

Heart disease in women is often described as under-recognised, undertreated and under-researched. It is a leading cause of death in Australian women claiming the life of almost three times as many women as breast cancer and yet awareness of this is low.

Since 2007 the Heart Foundation has raised awareness that heart disease is a leading health issue for women and worked with health professionals, researchers, policymakers and the media to highlight this to the entire community.

We also gathered statistical information and invested time in building a better understanding of what women knew and thought about heart disease. The results were surprising.

What the evidence told us

  • Heart disease is a leading cause of death in Australian women.
  • 90% of women have one risk factor for heart disease and half have two or three
  • Smoking, physical inactivity, high blood pressure, depression and diabetes are leading risk factors for women
  • Health care expenditure on females for cardiovascular disease is approximately 20% less per person than males
  • When women have a heart attack they often suffer poorer outcomes than men
  • Women are less likely to be referred for diagnostic tests although the reasons for this are not clear
  • Only 20% of eligible female patients participate in cardiac rehabilitation programs on discharge from hospital following heart treatment
  • Women are still under-represented in the clinical trials which inform our understanding of heart disease and its treatment.

What women told us

In our discussions with women, we also gained a clearer understanding of their concerns and issues. In particular:

  • Most women consider heart disease of low personal relevance
  • More women are concerned by breast cancer
  • Many have little understanding of clinical risk factors for heart disease e.g. high blood pressure and high cholesterol
  • Knowledge about the non-chest pain warning signs of a heart attack is low
  • Some women are unsure of how to ask their doctor for a heart health check
  • Many consider that once you have had heart surgery you are “fixed” there is low recognition that maintaining a healthy lifestyle after a diagnosis of heart disease is as important as before.

Our way forward

This information has been significant in shaping the way the Heart Foundation is now setting priorities to improve the heart health pathway of Australian women either identified at risk or living with heart disease.
Our focus is to work at different levels; not only with women but also the clinicians, policymakers and front-line medical staff who can make a significant difference to the treatment and quality of life women have following a heart disease diagnosis. We are also funding and advocating for more research into heart disease in women as well as sex-specific analysis of existing data.

What we’ve achieved so far

  • In 2009, we launched the first Australian Go Red for Women campaign that is now held every June to raise awareness about women and heart disease
  • In 2010, we:
  • In 2011 and 2012 we held workplace Healthy Heart Challenges involving more than 30,000 women
  • In 2012 and 2013 we ran industry networking events with female leaders on women and heart disease
  • In 2014 and 2015 we developed materials with heart health messages targeted at Aboriginal women and cultural and linguistically diverse women and we started to film a range of women's personal stories about heart disease to share with others. We also awarded the first round of our Community Grants to various local champions to further disseminate our heart health messaging.
  • In 2015 and 2016 we have: developed a range of resources with Aboriginal women and women from regional and cultural and linguistically diverse communities to raise awareness of heart disease. We have created a suite of women's personal stories about heart disease to share with others and awarded 12 Community Grants, enabling local community organisations to raise awareness in their communities.
  • In 2016, we refreshed the Go Red for Women branding and launched under a new campaign – Making the Invisible Visible. The thinking behind this is that it speaks more closely to making women’s hearts visible in research, in diagnosis and treatment and of course, in women themselves so they see heart health as personally relevant. The inaugural Women and Heart Disease Research Grant was awarded to Professor Elizabeth Sullivan to explore the relationships between pregnancy and heart disease.
  • In 2017, we built on this campaign with a successful media push across our social media channels as well as in the mainstream media. We hosted the first multi-disciplinary Women and Heart Disease Forum, this time bringing together specialists in cardiology, obstetrics, midwifery, the research community and public health experts to shine a light on women and heart disease. Read what a resounding success the Women and Heart Disease Forum was from the viewpoint of our National Women and Heart Disease Spokesperson, Ms Julie Anne Mitchell.
  • We are thrilled to report that through our efforts, women and heart disease is now recognised in most state and federal women's health policies and we have raised the awareness in women of heart disease from 20% in 2009 to 35%. But there is still a long way to go.

Where are we headed?

We are now building on this platform to create a movement. Awareness raising will be the keystone of our effort but we will more directly focus attention on supporting women diagnosed or at risk of heart disease by focusing on women’s clinical risk factors; the less known symptoms often associated with heart attack; the importance of cardiac rehabilitation and the importance of gender-based research and data collection to better understand the subtle differences between men and women and how they are treated for their disease.

Read our 2017 campaign report to find out more.