October is Menopause Awareness Month with October 18 marking World Menopause Day. The theme for 2023 is cardiovascular disease, something I know about after recently being diagnosed with cardiovascular disease and hypyertension.
Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in Australia and the world?
Here are some sobering facts according to the Heart Research Institute:
- Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is the number one killer of Australian women,
- Over half a million Australian women have CVD.
- Every day, 109 Australian women have an acute coronary event, such as a heart attack or stroke
- Every year, 22,000 women die from CVD – that’s 60 women a day – and over 200,000 women are hospitalised due to CVD.1
Despite these sobering statistics, many women are unaware that they are also at risk of heart disease.Heart Research Institute
I was one of those women who was unaware that I had CVD and hypertension. Sure, I knew there was a family history with my Dad who had a heart attack when I was growing up but as I led a very healthy and active lifestyle I didn’t think I would be a candidate.
I was wrong!
A couple of months ago, I wasn’t well and had chest pains. The Doctor in the ED said I had not had a heart attack but did recommend I see a cardiologist for further testing. After a CT Angiogram and Ultrasound of my carotid arteries I was diagnosed with CVD and hypertension. I had a stress test and although my heart function, according to the cardiologist is ‘phenominal for a woman my age’, and despite my healthy lifestyle, I still have plaque build up in my arteries due to genetics.
The good news is that I can do something about it. There are certain factors which are out of our control but there are also things we can do to take control of our health. I was doing most of these so the next step was medication.
When it comes to heart health in women over 50, it’s important to be aware of potential signs and symptoms of cardiovascular issues. While these signs may vary from person to person, here are some common ones to look out for:
You can read more detailed information at the Heart Research Institute Website – Women and heart disease: symptoms and diagnosis • HRI
- Chest discomfort: Women may experience chest pain or discomfort that can be sharp, burning, or aching. This discomfort may last for a few minutes or come and go.
- Shortness of breath: Feeling breathless even during mild physical activity, or experiencing unexplained shortness of breath at rest.
- Fatigue: Extreme tiredness or unexplained weakness, which may be particularly noticeable during activities that were once easy to perform.
- Dizziness or lightheadedness: Feeling faint, dizzy, or experiencing frequent bouts of lightheadedness.
- Pain in the jaw, neck, or back: Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back can occur, and it may be a result of the heart not receiving enough oxygen.
- Nausea or vomiting: Some women may experience nausea, indigestion, or even vomiting, without any obvious cause.
- Sweating: Unusual or excessive sweating, especially if it is not triggered by exercise or high temperatures.
- Sleep disturbances: A significant change in sleep patterns, such as insomnia or frequent waking up during the night.
What you can do, right now
Knowledge is power so……be informed
- Know your family medical history
- Know your health readings such as cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Make an appointment with your doctor to arrange blood tests to find out what your cholesterol level is and have your blood pressure checked. Some pharmacies will take your blood pressure as well
- Know what you can control e.g. lifestyle choices and what you can’t control
What you can’t control
- Increasing age: CVD is most common in people aged 50 and over. The risk for women increases significantly once they have reached menopause. However, women of all ages can experience CVD, so it’s important to manage the risk factors that can be changed.
- Gender: While men are slightly more at risk of CVD than women, CVD is still a leading cause of death and disability in women. CVD risk in women can also be under-recognised and under-treated.
- Family history: People with a family history of CVD may be more predisposed to developing CVD. An immediate family member, such as a parent or sibling, being diagnosed with CVD before the age of 60 may indicate a family history of premature CVD. This means that the chances of developing the same condition may be higher than normal. That is the case for me.
What you can control
Preventing cardiovascular disease involves making positive lifestyle choices. Here are some factors that you can control to reduce your risk. They are pretty obvious but maybe you need to assess your current lifestyle choices.
It is all about being informed so take the time to research and understand.
- Healthy Diet: Eat a balanced diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Limit your intake of saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugars.
- Regular Physical Activity: Engage in regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight, lower blood pressure, and improve heart health. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week.
- Tobacco and Alcohol Use: Avoid smoking and limit alcohol consumption.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight: Obesity and being overweight increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Manage Stress: Chronic stress can contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease. Implement stress-reducing techniques such as exercise, meditation, deep breathing, and engaging in activities you enjoy.
- Control Blood Pressure: High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. Monitor your blood pressure regularly and take steps to keep it within a healthy range through lifestyle changes or medication as prescribed by your healthcare provider.
- Manage Cholesterol Levels: High cholesterol levels can lead to the buildup of plaque in your arteries. Understand the difference between HDL and LDL. Maintain healthy cholesterol levels by eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly, and, if necessary, taking medication prescribed by your doctor.
- Diabetes Management: If you have diabetes, it is crucial to manage your blood sugar levels to reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications. Follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations for diet, exercise, and medication.
Remember, it is important to consult with your healthcare provider for personalized advice and guidance on managing your cardiovascular health.
This October, I’ll be doing my personal best to raise funds to support The Heart Foundation.
I’m going to conquer 84 km (2 x marathons) to raise funds for heart disease research that will help save lives. This will be a combination of runs and walks throughout the month.
My goal is to raise $1,000 which could pay for DNA tests that can help determine genetic factors to identify people at high risk of heart disease.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Australia, and I want to do something to support the thousands of Aussies, including myself whose lives are impacted by this disease every single day.
If you would like to support my efforts then please click on the link below to donate. I would be most grateful for any donation to this worthy cause.
Thanks in advance for your support!
1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2019. Cardiovascular disease in women. Cat. no. CDK 15. Canberra: AIHW.