Heart disease contributes to more deaths among women than most forms of cancer, a university report has found.
The study, conducted by the Australian Catholic University’s Mary McKillop Institute for Health, looked at the impact of heart disease on Australian women by considering not only heart attack and stroke, but also a widened analysis of associated diseases like diabetes and kidney failure.
Under those parameters, the Cardiovascular Risk and Diseases in Australian Women report found heart disease was the number one killer of women, leading to more than 31,000 deaths every year.
That number is far greater than the 12,000 deaths of women from common forms of cancer, including breast cancer.
Of the 31,000 deaths each year, the report identified that 3,000 women died before they could even get to a hospital for treatment.
One of the report’s lead researchers, Maja-Lisa Lochan, said many women failed to get timely medical treatment because they failed to recognise the symptoms of a heart attack.
“They often think it’s asthma, tiredness, influenza and … often related to diseases other than heart disease,” Professor Lochan said.
“They avoid seeking treatment … more often than men.”
Sixty per cent of heart disease causes are preventable
Professor Lochan said the increasing epidemic of obesity had also led to higher risk factors for heart disease amongst younger women.
She said the number of deaths could be reduced if the key causative factors were tackled.
“Sixty per cent of the causes of heart disease in women and related issues are preventable,” she said.
“The main causes are high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking.
“It has to do with the Australian diet, which has a high content of sugar. All these risk factors are related to lifestyle and treatable conditions.”
The report also found women falsely believed that heart disease was a condition that affected mainly men.
Awareness campaigns, gender specific guidelines needed
According to the report, Australia’s health system spends $3 billion annually on cardiovascular disease-related hospital care for women.
Professor Lochan said in order to reduce the figure spent and also the number of Australian women diagnosed with heart disease, the Government needed to invest more money in awareness campaigns, gender-specific guidelines and prevention programs.
“The Government should also increase funding for cardiovascular disease research in women,” Professor Lochan said.
The report is due to be presented to members of Federal Parliament at a summit on cardiovascular disease in Canberra today.
This story originally appeared on ABC News.
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