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Women's Health 2020

Cardiovascular disease – it’s a women’s issue too

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Dr Angie Brown

Consultant Cardiologist and Medical Director, Irish Heart Foundation

Many women consider cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke) a man’s disease. However, the truth is that one in four women in Ireland will die of cardiovascular disease – that’s more than 4,000 women each year. Understanding cardiovascular disease, being aware of the symptoms, and knowing how to protect yourself are a matter of life and death.


How does cardiovascular disease affect women?

As women age, their risk of cardiovascular disease increases; this often coincides with the menopause. Earlier in their lives, women are protected from cardiovascular disease by hormones, but after the menopause their cholesterol and blood pressure levels tend to increase. This increases their risk of cardiovascular disease and the prevalence amongst women of this age group is similar to that seen in men.

The good news is that 80% of premature death from cardiovascular is preventable.

Women’s experiences of heart disease can be different too, and sometimes the symptoms are more subtle. Often they can be quite vague – when experiencing a heart attack, women may feel breathless, nauseous, tired, have back or jaw pain, or feel they are experiencing indigestion. This means that it often does not occur to women that they may be experiencing a heart attack and it can be harder to diagnose.

Research also shows that women call an ambulance for husbands, fathers and brothers with heart attack symptoms but not for themselves. One of our most important messages for women experiencing any worrying symptoms don’t delay. If you think you may be having a heart attack, call 999 immediately and go to your local Emergency Department.

What can I do to reduce my risk?

The good news is that 80% of premature death from cardiovascular is preventable.

There are a range of factors which increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease including: smoking, being overweight or obese, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, lack of physical activity, diabetes and a family history of cardiac problems. 

To reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, women should pay attention to the factors which are within their control and follow these guidelines:

  • Be more active – get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical a day, five days a week
  • Eat a healthy diet, including less processed food and fat, and more vegetables and wholegrain foods
  • If you smoke, try to stop
  • Drink less alcohol (fewer than 11 standard drinks per week for women)
  • Get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly
  • Try to enjoy life, learn to relax and take time out for yourself
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