Question: Heart disease is the Number 1 killer of Australian women; can you talk about the age of women affected by heart disease?
Michelle Kearney: With heart disease the single leading cause of death in Australian women, all females need to understand heart disease and how it could be relevant to them.
Your risk of heart disease increases significantly after you reach menopause. It's not clear why, although it appears that the hormone oestrogen may give some protection against heart disease during our reproductive years.
Regardless of this, it is vital that all Australian women, especially those aged 45 and over, understand the risk factors and signs of heart disease because they are four times more likely to die of it than breast cancer.
Question: Why do you believe many women are unaware that heart disease is the Number 1 killer of Australian women?
Michelle Kearney: Australian women are more than three times more likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer.
Cancer organisations have done an excellent job raising the profile of breast cancer and all women should continue to be vigilant in understanding this disease. Heart Research Australia encourages women to be just as vigilant in looking after their heart health. Heart disease can be largely prevented, just by being aware of the risk factors, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high glucose, smoking, being overweight and physically inactive.
Question: What conditions come under the title of heart disease?
Michelle Kearney: Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a broad term used to describe a range of common diseases that affect the heart or blood vessels. Many common conditions fall under the umbrella of CVD, including coronary artery disease, heart attack, heart failure, high blood pressure and stroke. In fact, the term 'cardiovascular disease" is often used interchangeably with heart disease because both terms refer to diseases of the heart or arteries.
Question: What are your top tips for women to prevent heart disease?
Michelle Kearney: Heart disease is largely preventable. You can reduce your risks of heart disease by living a healthier lifestyle, including:
Be smoke free
Enjoy healthy eating
Be physically active
Manage your blood pressure
Manage your cholesterol levels
Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight
Maintain your mental health and wellbeing
Question: Can you talk us through what commonly increases our risks of heart disease?
Michelle Kearney: The signs of heart disease are not always obvious, and a heart attack can often be the first indicator.
There is no single cause of heart disease but there are risk factors that increase your chance of developing it. Risk factors include lifestyle habits, such as smoking or being overweight, as well as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and a family history of heart disease.
Major risk factors are those that research has shown significantly increase the risk of heart disease. The more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing it.
Modifiable risk factors Any person can make changes to these risk factors, even modest improvements to your health will make a big difference. It's important to have your cholesterol and blood pressure checked regularly, as they have no visible symptoms, therefore you don't know that you have it until you are tested.
High blood cholesterol
High blood pressure
Being overweight and obesity
Non-modifiable risk factors
These risk factors cannot be changed.
Family history of heart disease
Question: What are some of the symptoms of heart disease?
Michelle Kearney: The most common symptom of coronary artery disease is angina, or chest pain. ... Other symptoms of coronary artery disease include:
Shortness of breath.
Palpitations (irregular heartbeats, or a "flip-flop" feeling in your chest).
A faster heartbeat.
Weakness or dizziness.
Question: How can we test and manage blood pressure?
Michelle Kearney: High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, means your blood is pumping at a higher pressure than normal through your blood vessels. This forces your heart to work harder to pump blood to your vital organs.
There are often no symptoms of high blood pressure, which makes it even more dangerous. High blood pressure can lead to other health problems, including heart disease. The only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is by getting it checked by your health professional.
Question: What are the main symptoms women having a heart attack, will experience?
Michelle Kearney: Men Experience:
Ches tpain or discomfort
Shortness of breath
Back, neck or jaw pain or tightness
Burning sensation in the chest, similar to heartburn
Shortness of breath
Question: How is heart disease prevented?
Michelle Kearney: Heart disease may be a leading cause of death, but that doesn't mean you have to accept it as your fate. Although you lack the power to change some risk factors " such as family history, sex or age " there are some key heart disease prevention steps you can take. You can avoid heart problems in the future by adopting a healthy lifestyle today.
Here are some ways you can protect your heart from future disease:
1. Don't smoke
2. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day
3. Know your numbers – have your cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose checked regularly.
4. Follow a heart-healthy diet
Question: What do you want women to be most aware of regarding heart disease?
Michelle Kearney: Heart disease is a lifestyle disease. Today's woman has to make time for her work and family, often leaving little time to worry about herself. Heart Research Australia encourages women to be aware of their risk factors now whilst they still have time to change their lifestyle.
While men may have the classic central chest pain, women will confuse their chest pain with indigestion or heartburn. Women also experience jaw pain, shoulder pain, sweating, nausea and fatigue.
By women knowing their symptoms of a heart attack, they could prevent the larger heart attack, where more heart function is lost, recovery is longer and the risk of mortality is higher. Women who can recognize a possible early heart attack may also be candidates for varying medical and surgical interventions that help prevent the larger, more dangerous heart attack.
Heart Research Australia urges Australian women, to invest in their heart health, be aware that this is the biggest cause of death amongst women, and by donating towards the life-saving research that Heart Research Australia funds, we can create more survivors for the future.
Heart Research Australia raises funds for research into the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of Australia's biggest killer – heart disease. We strive to support life-saving heart research that benefits all Australians.
Interview by Brooke Hunter