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Fitness

Women and heart disease

**Have you ever thought you might die of a heart attack? No? Why not? It's true that most of us think of heart disease as an "old man's" health issue, but the tragic fact is that heart disease is the number one killer of Australian women.** Four times as many women die from a heart condition, as from breast cancer. This lack of awareness is what's prompted a Heart Foundation campaign called Go Red for Women. "Women's level of awareness is low so, by staging this campaign, we can alert them to be as vigilant about heart disease as breast health," says the Heart Foundation's Julie-Anne Mitchell, the Chair of the Go Red for Women Campaign. Julie-Anne says the first step towards better heart health, should be an appointment with your GP. "We're good at getting our partners to a doctor, but we don't focus so much on our own health," she says. "So get him there ... but make an appointment for yourself too!" Julie-Anne explains that unless a woman is checked and assessed regularly, she can be oblivious to the early signs of heart disease — which is a build-up of fatty plaques in the vessels that supply the heart. "Unfortunately for some women, their first indication of heart disease can be something as life threatening as a heart attack," she says. "A regular check-up with your doctor or GP can put your mind at rest. And if something abnormal is picked up, it can be treated early through medication or changes to your lifestyle." While the experts know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women, they don't know much about why ... yet. "What is known is that women usually present with heart disease much later in life," says Julie-Anne. "We know a woman's natural hormones like oestrogen can be a protective against heart disease, but once she goes through menopause her oestrogen levels are lower and to a large extent that protection is gone."
  • Regular heart checks
    See your doctor regularly for an assessment of your cardiovascular health.
  • Know your numbers.
    Become familiar with your cholesterol, blood pressure and waist girth (realistic long-term goals are 88cm for women and 102cm for men). These are all indicators of heart disease risk.
  • Go smoke-free.
    Smoking is one of the major risk factors of heart disease. If you stop smoking today, within one year you'll have halved your risk of heart disease. Avoid passive smoking too.
  • Healthy eating
    That means enjoying a wide variety of foods and making small positive and sustainable changes to your diet.
  • Be active every day
    Do at least 30 minutes of activity a day. This can be in 10-minute bursts and as simple as walking.
  • Central chest pain — common, but not always present in women.
  • Severe pain into the jaw, neck, shoulder. Tingling down one side of the body.
  • Extreme sense of fatigue. Not just feeling bit tired, but a bone-numbing sense of absolute exhaustion.
Call 000 if you experience any of these signs of a heart attack! "The faster you get to hospital, the greater the survival rates are," Julie-Anne explains. "So don't call your GP, or ask a friend, or be too embarrassed in case it's indigestion — call 000 because every minute counts."

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