Interview with Julie Anne Mitchell, Director of Prevention, Heart Foundation
Extract: MHF Life, 2nd Edition, 2019
Publishing Partner: Access News
MOST of us are familiar with the common portrayal of a heart attack in movies – a middle-aged man clutches his chest in agony before keeling over.
While chest pain is a common sign of a heart attack, it is not the only sign. And despite what we see on the big screen, it isn’t just men who have heart attacks.
Heart disease is a leading cause of death among Australian women, claiming an average of 22 female lives every day.
Some women will not experience any chest pain during the onset of their heart attack.
Yet many women are unaware of the other symptoms to look out for, and fewer than one in two is confident she would know what to do if having a heart attack.
Every minute counts
In both men and women, chest pain or discomfort are tell-tale signs of a heart attack.
However, research shows women are more likely to experience the non-chest pain symptoms of a heart attack, such as jaw, shoulder, neck or back pain.
You may also experience a choking feeling in your throat, nausea, shortness of breath, a cold sweat or dizziness.
Knowing the full range of warning signs is vital – as is trusting your instincts. Act quickly by calling Triple zero (000) if you think something is wrong.
Every minute counts. The quicker you get treatment, the better your chances of survival.
Embrace healthy habits
The best way to take care of your heart is to follow a healthy lifestyle and know your risks for heart disease.
Clinical and lifestyle risk factors can impact women of all ages. Risk factors include family history, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, being overweight or obese, inactivity and diabetes.
Complications in pregnancy such as pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes are also now known to be possible warning signs of future cardiovascular risk, so if you have experienced either of these ensure you tell your doctor.
The good news is that many of these risk factors can be reduced with lifestyle changes.
To be heart-healthy, it is important to be smoke-free; limit alcohol intake; maintain a healthy weight; be active, have your blood pressure and cholesterol checked and enjoy a variety of nutritious foods.
It is also a good idea to see your GP for a Heart Health Check, which will help determine your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
This is covered by Medicare for Australians aged 45 years and up, and from 30 years for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Your doctor will look at a range of factors about your heart health and help you devise a plan to stay well.
Keeping heart health in mind
Women are almost three times more likely to die from heart disease than breast cancer.
Despite this, awareness that heart disease is a leading killer of Australian women is low, and women are less likely to have spoken to their GP about their heart health than men.
While heart disease is often not on a woman’s radar as personally relevant to them, it is important that we all strive to take steps towards better heart health.
In consultation with your doctor, embracing some simple lifestyle changes could help keep your heart beating longer and stronger.
Director of Prevention, Julie Anne Mitchell is the Heart Foundation’s spokesperson on women’s heart health. For more information about heart disease and healthy living, visit www.heartfoundation.org.au or call the Heart Foundation Helpline on 13 11 12.