Women and Heart Disease

Heart disease kills four times more Australian women than breast cancer.

Moreover, about 40% of heart attacks in women are fatal, and many occur without prior warning. Sadly, the majority of women don’t realise it’s their number one killer.

Why is heart disease less recognised in women?

  • Women tend to develop symptoms of heart disease at a much later stage of the illness than men
  • Their symptoms are often vaguer or ‘non-specific’
  • Some diagnostic tests for heart disease are less accurate in women than in men
  • Women are less likely to seek help quickly
  • Some health professionals are less likely to check

Women’s Symptoms of a heart attack

Did you know that women can experience different symptoms of a heart attack to men?


If you aren’t feeling normal or are experiencing any of the symptoms above, head to your local emergency room or call 000. It is better to take care of yourself and prevent damage to your heart, in the event you are having a heart attack.

How can women reduce their risk?

Women need to understand that they are at risk from hypertension and diabetes, and that these disorders are largely preventable.

  • Stick to an active lifestyle throughout life – preferably beginning in the pre-menopausal years with regular exercise (at least 30 minutes, 3–5 times a week)
  • Follow a low-fat diet
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Maintain a healthy body weight

Prevention involves early recognition of particular cardiovascular risk factors as they occur in each – with medication where these factors can’t be controlled by lifestyle changes.

Risk Factors 

Hypertension is two to three times more common in women than in men, and it becomes much more common as you get older.

Smoking is even more harmful in women than in men. For example, it creates more risk of clotting-related diseases, such as stroke and heart attack, in young women compared with men. The risk is increased if smoking women are also using a birth control pill.

Hypertension: the silent killer
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is the most important risk factor for both stroke and heart failure.

In 2001, more than half of Australian women aged over 55 had hypertension: a disturbing fact, because many are unaware they have the condition. It is called ‘the silent killer’ because it does not cause symptoms.

Once diagnosed, hypertension can usually be well controlled with appropriate medication. If it is controlled, the risk of developing heart failure or stroke is greatly reduced.

The risk of developing diabetes is increased greatly by physical inactivity and obesity. In 2001 about 20% of Australian women were classified as obese, and many more as overweight.  Many Australian women with diabetes remain undiagnosed. Most have no symptoms, because diabetes is usually present for many years before symptoms develop.

Diabetes increases the risk of heart attack by 3-7 times in women, compared with 2-3 times in men.

Diabetics have more widespread atherosclerosis than others, and are often less suitable for stenting or surgery. Regular exercise and weight control, beginning at an early age, can usually prevent diabetes.

Early recognition of diabetes (involving a blood glucose test) allows appropriate medical intervention. This can greatly reduce the risks linked to the disease.