The Overlooked and Leading Cause of Death in Women - Heart Attacks!

Heart attacks kill women too.

So, my husband and I were watching Greys Anatomy the other night (yes, it’s true, it’s a guilty pleasure of mine) and one of the central characters who is a well-respected surgeon presented herself to an ER unit and advised them that she was having a heart attack.  After some tests the presiding doctor declared that she was not, in fact, having a heart attack and suggested that this lady was imagining her symptoms. 

My husband commented that he wondered if they were going to take the character's role into some psychological trauma storyline to which I replied “No, I think they are using this to highlight that cardiovascular disease is a huge problem in women and that there is a difference between heart attacks symptoms in women to men”.  He looked at me like he had no idea what I was talking about.  Turns out, he really did have no idea what I was talking about

Now, if my well-read, very intelligent husband (that's two brownie points to me!) was not aware of the incidence of cardiovascular disease in women and that they experience heart attacks differently, then I’m guessing a whole lot more people don’t know either.  Which brings us to this blog.  (In case you are wondering what happened on Greys, the character was indeed having a heart attack that they almost caught too late).

When we think heart disease we often picture the older, overweight male but here are some key facts about cardiovascular disease relating to women;

  • More Australian women die from cardio vascular disease than any other disease group. In other words, it’s the leading cause of death in women.
  • Coronary Heart Disease and stroke are the leading cause of premature death in Australian women as well. Premature death is defined as a death that occurs before the current age expectancy.
  • Almost two thirds of women that die from suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous reported symptoms.
  • Silent heart attacks for women under 65 are more likely to be fatal than for silent heart attacks for men under 65.

Cardiovascular disease is most certainly an issue for women. As it turns out, it kills more of us than anything else. 

Lifestyle factors have a huge part to play in cardiovascular disease.  It's not just the one they advertise about – you know, being overweight and having unfavourable cholesterol levels – it's also stress, sleep, movement and diet.  In fact, I wrote a blog about exactly these risk factors a few months ago after the untimely passing of Dean Mercer, the former ironman.

I’m not going into that detail today – what I want is to make sure that it is clearly known that a heart attack looks different in women.  We are used to the movie style clutching of the chest when heart attacks happen and occasionally that is true for women but there is a far greater range of symptoms;

  • Pain in the back, neck, jaw, or throat
  • Indigestion
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea (feeling sick to the stomach)
  • Vomiting
  • Extreme fatigue (tiredness)
  • Shortness of breath

It might be a generalised statement to say it's a woman's trait to often ignore the niggles and just push on... generally because the symptoms don’t always seem like a big deal or we don’t recognise them as relating to our heart but please, read the symptoms and remember the differences. Seek help even if it seems silly because silent heart attacks kill lots of women.  I have a theory that they were not all silent.  I think that many of those women experienced some sort of symptom but didn’t think it was enough to seek help.

Even the way that plaque builds up in men’s and women’s arteries is different, right down to what actually happens to the artery when there is a rupture of plaque! The focus on cardiovascular disease in women is actually relatively new, even though heart disease has been in the headlines for decades.  There is a huge scientific push to understand it better because for years we have really only been looking at a male picture of cardiovascular disease and, as it turns out, that is only half of the picture.

Don’t ignore the niggles.  Look at your lifestyle – are there enough veggies? Do you get some exercise in?  Are you getting enough sleep?  Does stress have a starring role in your life?

These things are all super relevant to address!

We can help you to change some of those very modifiable risk factors.  We provide personalised nutrition and lifestyle programs that are as unique as you are to enable you to achieve your best health. Contact us to find out how we can help.

By Wendy Burke (Nutritionist, Naturopath, Personal Trainer)





Emily Banksheart attack