Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death in Australia. In 2017, this was the cause of 30% of deaths. These deaths are largely preventable. Cardiovascular disease kills one Australian every 12 minutes. In addition, approximately 2.6 million Australians have high blood pressure and over 400,000 have had a heart attack and survived.
Cardiovascular disease includes diseases of the heart and blood vessels. Coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease in Australia. Coronary artery disease can cause a heart attack. A heart attack happens when the blood supply to the heart muscle is blocked completely. This in turn causes damage to the heart muscle and then impairment of heart function. Unfortunately, blockage of the coronary arteries can cause death.
Nearly 3 times as many women die of heart disease than breast cancer. Every day, 22 women die from heart disease. Ninety percent of Australian women have at least one risk factor for heart disease. Research shows that only half of women who have a heart attack experience chest pain, and many others experience atypical symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, or arm or jaw pain. This happened to my own mother who experienced atypical symptoms on presentation to emergency, and subsequently died when she was misdiagnosed and sent home.
Let’s talk about risk factors. There are some risk factors which cannot be modified including age, genetic predisposition, gender and ethnicity. Importantly there are modifiable risk factors. This means these are changeable with a change in behaviour. These include tobacco smoking, poor diet, insufficient physical activity, and excessive alcohol consumption. There are other conditions which play a major role in increasing risk of cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, overweight/obesity, and type 2 diabetes. By modifying behaviour these conditions can often improve significantly or be reversed in some cases.
There are many treatment options that can be discussed with your doctor. In some cases, medication or surgery is absolutely indicated. However, in many cases prevention is key. Making lifestyle changes like being more physical active, eating a whole food mostly plant based diet, sleeping well, decreasing your stress, stopping smoking and limiting the amount of alcohol you drink. These can have incredible health benefits and decreases your risk of cardiovascular disease. It is never too late to start making changes.
Cardiovascular disease is a subject very close to my own heart. I lost my mother to a largely preventable condition. There are two take home messages –
1. Look at your modifiable risk factors and start making some positive changes in your life to decrease your risk of disability and dying.
2. If you do have cardiovascular disease and you do not feel well, especially if you are a woman and even if it isn’t “typical” chest pain – please see a doctor, call an ambulance or go to emergency and get checked out! It could make the difference between life and death.