Risk factors for women
Women are almost three times more likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer.
These are alarming figures but they don’t need to be.
Every hour of every day an Australian woman dies of heart disease. In Australia, 90% of women have one risk factor and 50% of women have two or three risk factors. The good news is that many of these risk factors can be reduced with positive lifestyle changes.
Common questions about risk factors for women:
Are there some risk factors women are more likely to have?
A 2010 national report on Australian women found that the most common risk factors affecting women were high cholesterol, high rates of overweight and obesity and high rates of physical inactivity. Research also shows that smoking, poorly controlled diabetes and depression are greater risk factors of heart disease for women than men.
Complications during pregnancy like preeclampsia or gestational diabetes can increase your risk of heart disease later in life. If you experienced these, tell your healthcare professional so they can monitor your heart health.
When is a woman’s risk of heart disease greatest?
Heart disease can occur at any age, however, at a population level, this risk increases significantly around menopause. It is not clear why women tend to get heart disease at a later age than men although 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.
The important point is to have a heart health check with your doctor and know your personal risk of developing heart disease. With this information, you can take active steps to lower your risk.
Risk factors for younger women
Risk factors for heart disease can start early in a woman’s life. Enjoying healthy eating and regular physical activity as well as 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 by contributing to overweight and obesity. Currently 27.6% of women 35-44 years of age are overweight and another 30.7% obese [ABS. 2014/15 Australian Health Survey].
Does the use of oral contraception increase heart disease risk in women?
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 add to this risk.
For young women with a known history of heart or blood vessel disease its 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 heart attack in women?
Research has shown that just over half of women who have a heart attack experienced chest pain, however many other women will only experience non-typical symptoms like breathlessness, nausea and arm or jaw pain. So it’s important to know the full range of heart attack warning signs and act quickly by calling Triple 000 if you think something is wrong. Research has found every minute counts.
Watch this video'Just a little heart attack' starring Elizabeth Banks.
Real women, real stories
Real women from across Australia tell us about their experience with heart disease.
watch their stories