Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a leading cause of illness and death among Australians – second only to cancers – and it is affecting more and more women, according to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
And while CVD is the leading cause of death globally for both sexes, women present with different symptoms and are more likely than men to die as a result, according to University of Guelph Professor Glen Pyle.
The AIHW report, Cardiovascular disease in women – a snapshot of national statistics, shows that more than half a million Australian women have cardiovascular disease, and that it accounts for almost one-third of all deaths among women.
“In 2016, more than 22,200 women died of CVD, making it the most deadly disease group for women,’ said AIHW spokesperson Miriam Lum On.
CVD, which includes coronary heart disease, stroke and heart failure, is a largely preventable and treatable group of conditions.
“Cardiovascular disease is often seen as an issue predominantly affecting men, but there is increasing recognition that aspects of its prevention, treatment and management are unique to women,” said Ms Lum On.
And prevalence increases with age, with 35 per cent of Australians aged 55–64 reporting a long-term CVD condition, increasing to 66 per cent for Australians aged 75 and over.
The better news is that despite the impact of CVD on Australian women, rates of acute coronary events (heart attack or unstable angina) and deaths have fallen substantially in recent decades.
Between 2001 and 2016, the rate among women fell by 57 per cent, from 465 to 215 events per 100,000.
Most chronic conditions, including CVD, share common risk factors that are largely preventable, such as tobacco use, risky alcohol consumption, overweight and obesity, physical inactivity, and high blood pressure.
However, a collaboration involving the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the German Heart Centre Munich, global biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and Karolinska Institutet in Sweden has demonstrated that more than 30 per cent of heart disease risk stems from genetic factors.
The study findings, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, introduce the biology of gene networks as a means to better understand the genetic basis of heart disease.
Highlighting the differences between men and women experiencing a heart attack, Prof. Pyle says that women are more likely to present without pain, or with uncharacteristic symptoms. Treatment guidelines, however, are based on data collected primarily from men, he says.
“Sexism in cardiovascular research means that not only are heart attacks often missed in women, but women are also less likely to receive recommended therapies, interventions and rehabilitation opportunities,” he wrote in The Conversation.
Facts on cardiovascular disease among Australian women
- More than half a million Australian women have cardiovascular disease.
- It accounts for almost one-third of deaths among women.
- In 2016, 22,200 women died of cardiovascular disease.
- Between 2001 and 2016, rates of cardiovascular disease fell by 57 per cent.
- From 2006 to 2016, hospitalisation rates rose 11 per cent for women aged 25–34.
- They rose 4.7 per cent for women aged 35–44.
Have you experienced some form of CVD? Do you believe genetics played a part?
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