Cardiovascular disease is one of Australia’s largest health problems, with 38% of all deaths being attributed to the disease. It kills an Australian every 12 minutes, and affects approximately 3.7 million.

Coronary heart disease affects around 1.4 million Australians, and is the single leading cause of death in Australia.

It is estimated over 350,000 Australians have had a heart attack at some time in their lives. Heart attack claims, on average, 24 people per day.

The good news is that heart disease is largely preventable. There is no single cause for heart disease, but there are risk factors that increase your chance of developing it. Knowing your risk of having a heart attack or stroke is the first step you can take to help prevent one.


Risk Factors

The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to have a high chance of having a heart attack or stroke. Many risk factors are silent killers, as there are no obvious symptoms (eg. high blood pressure or high cholesterol).

Non-modifiable risk factors (risk factors you can't control):

  • age
  • ethnic background
  • having family history of heart disease

Modifiable risk factors (risk factors you can change):

  • smoking
  • high blood cholesterol
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • being physically inactive
  • being overweight
  • depression, social isolation and lack of quality support

Visit your doctor for a Heart Health Check. Talking to your doctor about your risk factors is the only way you can find out about your chance of having a heart attack or stroke. More importantly, it's the best way to find out how to prevent one.


Women

Heart disease is the single biggest killer of Australian women. Women are almost three times more likely to die of it than breast cancer.

While being aware of the general risk factors as described above, women should also understand the link between:

  • menopause and heart disease - A decline in the natural hormone oestrogen may be a factor in heart disease increase among post-menopausal women. Oestrogen is believed to have a positive effect on the inner layer of artery wall, helping to keep blood vessels flexible. That means they can relax and expand to accommodate blood flow. Despite the benefits of oestrogen, the Heart Foundation does not recommend Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for the treatment or prevention of heart disease.
  • oral contraceptive and heart disease - Oral contraceptives (the Pill) are usually safe for healthy young women. However, women who smoke while taking it greatly increase their risk of heart, stroke and blood vessel disease. Check with a health professional about your choice of contraception and any associated risks.

Men

Every day, 98 Australian men have a heart attack; 1 in 7 of these men will die.

While being aware of the general risk factors as described above, men should also consider the link between erectile dysfunction and heart disease. A new study has found that even minor erection difficulties could be indicators for heart disease. Erection difficulties are mainly caused by blockages in the small arteries that supply the penis. This is a good indicator of what is happening in other larger arteries in the body, including those that supply the heart. There are many effective treatments, both for erectile dysfunction and for cardiovascular disease, so if men are experiencing any erectile problems, they should get their heart risk assessed by their GP.


Risk Reduction

To reduce your risk of a heart attack and aid your recovery, you should:

  • Partake in regular exercise
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Avoid smoking
  • Ensure your diet is well-balanced
  • Maintain your social and emotional health

By doing this, you may:

  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Prevent or delay the onset of hypertension and diabetes
  • Enhance antihypertensive drug therapy

Many thanks to the Heart Foundation for much of the information provided above. For more detailed information, visit the Australian Heart Foundation website.