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The Alarming Increase in Heart Attack Risk for Women over 45

  • Written by Saville

Heart attacks kill more people in Australia than any other disease, ailment, or risk factor. In fact, more than breast cancer and Covid.

Most women don’t know their risk of heart attack or how to identify early signs or even symptoms. Often heart attack symptoms in women are misinterpreted or misunderstood.

With over 40% of heart attacks happening to women under the age of 65 and women experiencing much more subtle symptoms than their male counterparts, such as hot flushes, tingling, feeling anxiety, or just out of breath - many women don’t identify these as heart attacks, which only increases the risk.

While we're actively testing for early detection of cancer with mammograms for women, and bowel cancer tests being shipped out to every Australian at age 50, we don't generally test for early detection of cardiovascular disease or calcification of arteries which leads to heart attacks.

The Healthy Heart Network, led by Australia's foremost preventative cardiologist Dr. Warrick Bishop, provides a pathway for simple yet effective risk assessment tools and testing which can be commenced free online by entering basic details at which immediately determines the risk category an individual belongs to.

Those deemed to be in the intermediate and high-risk groups are then referred to the 3D Heart Imaging Scan, the most effective way to assess heart health. The 3D imaging scan - which has long been used across the US, Europe, and Asia is not yet commonly used here placing Australia a decade behind other countries despite its effectiveness. Best yet, those deemed in the higher risk groups can access the scan without the need for GP or specialist appointments or long waiting lists and cost less than $300. This scan lets cardiologists virtually see inside your heart to assess your personal risk of a heart attack.

Unfortunately, often the first sign of a heart attack is death, and with 93% of the population having at least one heart attack risk factor and only 3% of the people having had a complete heart test, the risk is a real and imminent one. Of the 120 heart attacks experienced by Australians every day - over ⅓ are women - this statistic speaks volumes and goes a long way in explaining why heart attack remains the biggest killer in Australia.

According to Dr. Bishop, most heart attacks are actually preventable if we test early enough to identify and treat risk factors. Especially for women, who often put themselves last and not only lead busy family lives but pursue careers, run businesses and take on a lot of stress catering to children and family demands, the risks are stacked against them.

“Stress is one of the most underestimated risk factors for heart attacks. While family history plays another big role, most GPs usually only look at risk indicators such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and body weight. But that is almost disregarding some of the bigger aspects of heart attack risk”, says Dr. Bishop. “We service our cars regularly, even when they are running well. But we don’t get our heart checked, the most essential motor, often not even when we experience small symptoms. The only way to reduce the shocking statistics and save more lives is to get people to test early,” Dr Bishop says.

While there are notions of changing the general approach around heart attack from a tow truck to a proactive, preventative one, a public health campaign is most likely years away. That means, in the meantime, it is really up to individuals to take action and get tested before it's too late. Women at age 45+ are encouraged to get tested not just for their own sake but for their children and families too. Our children, families, businesses, and communities need our women to be healthy and avoid the risk of one of the biggest killers of women.

Symptoms often misinterpreted are, shortness of breath, hot flushes, tingling in the chest or nipples, pain or discomfort in one or both arms, cold sweat, nausea/vomiting, tightness or pain in the neck, jaw, or chest. And while many of these can also occur due to other reasons or conditions, they are often disregarded. These are considered silent heart attacks and pose a real threat to women in particular because they are all too often not recognised as early risk indicators.

Statistically younger women who have silent heart attacks without chest pain are more likely to die compared to younger men who have silent heart attacks without chest pain. Silent heart attacks are more likely to happen in women with diabetes as diabetes can change how you sense pain, making you less likely to notice heart attack symptoms.

Unfortunately, more often than not, the early indications of heart disease are overlooked and can lead to heart attacks, making early preventative testing more important especially for women over 45 years old. And, with stress being a major contributor to coronary and cardiovascular disease - meaning heart attack risk - getting properly tested is the best way to take preventative action early.

Knowing which risk group you belong to is the best starting point, which can quickly be established at - and it’s free. From there the 3D Heart Imaging Scan is then made available for under $300 to ensure there are no obvious signs of heart disease. While it is traditionally recommended for women at age 60, due to the fast-paced high-stress lifestyle and increase of heart attacks in younger women, it has more recently been suggested to start testing for women over the age of 45 years.

At a time when we see strong trends of healthy eating, exercise, yoga, mindset, and mediation to lead a balanced life, turning a blind eye toward such a common and real threat as heart attack is certainly not ideal. Here’s to a healthy heart…

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