Women and Heart Disease

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Most people consider cardiovascular disease as something affecting middle-aged men. In fact, cardiovascular disease kills more New Zealand women than men and is the biggest killer of women in New Zealand. 
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Know the facts

More than 50 Kiwi women lose their battle with heart disease every week.

Source: The Heart Foundation, Go Red for Women NZ

Nearly two-thirds of the deaths from heart attacks in women occur among those who have no history of chest pain.

Source: Oestreicher Stock, E., Redberg, R. (2012) Cardiovascular disease in Women. Curr Probl Cardiol,37(11), 45-526

Women who smoke are three times more likely to have a heart attack than women who don’t smoke.

Source: Oestreicher Stock, E., Redberg, R. (2012) Cardiovascular disease in Women. Curr Probl Cardiol,37(11), 45-526

Janelle has felt the impact of cardiovascular disease first hand.

Janelle, a supporter of HRI, lost her mother to a heart attack in 2003. 

Her mother had suffered from severe headaches over a period of time, however “no-one ever gave much thought to the possibility that her heart was the problem as she didn’t fit the stereotype for heart disease. She was slimly built and had a low level of ‘the bad’ cholesterol. No-one considered it may have been an anomaly in blood flow to her head that was causing her headaches.”

Knowing the risk factors

The choices you make every day can impact your risk of heart disease. While some risk factors are beyond your control - age, gender, ethnicity, and family history - many risk factors are impacted by how we live our lives. Your blood pressure, cholesterol, what you eat and drink, if you smoke, and how much you exercise all impact on your risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Heart attack in women

Symptoms and signs

When a heart attack strikes, it doesn’t always feel the same in women as in men. Women don't always get the same “classic” heart attack symptoms such as crushing chest pain that radiates down one arm. Those heart attack symptoms can certainly happen to women, but many experience “silent” symptoms that they may miss.

These symptoms are common in women:

  • Chest pain or discomfort

  • Pain in your arms, back, neck, or jaw

  • Stomach pain

  • Shortness of breath, nausea, or lightheadedness.

  • Sweating

  • Fatigue

How our research is saving lives

Our Vascular Immunology Group has discovered that the severity of high blood pressure or hypertension in expectant mothers - preeclampsia - impacts on high blood pressure later in life. These findings will allow women to better manage their risk of circulation and heart problems in future. 

1,2 Women and Heart Disease: Cardiovascular Profile of Women in Australia, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2010.

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