When you imagine someone having a heart attack or stroke, or what we see on television and film, it’s always a man. We don’t tend to imagine a woman having a heart attack or stroke, but in fact, one in four women dies from heart disease and stroke.
It’s an incredible statistic and everyone who heard it as part of the Her Health Matters campaign was stunned.
Women are six times more likely to die from heart disease and stroke than from breast cancer. This isn’t to pit one disease against another, but as women we’re so conscious of breast health and control, and heart disease isn’t on the radar at all.
With this campaign we want to put her on the radar of women, especially women in their 40s and 50s. During this period of perimenopause and menopause, estrogen begins to drop and your risk of heart disease and stroke increases.
As we all know, estrogen is a female hormone that regulates periods. It also has a really important job in terms of protecting women’s hearts and blood vessels.
Once we get into menopause, estrogen levels start to drop and this makes the blood vessels less flexible so blood flow is not as smooth and cholesterol also builds up inside the blood vessels. So there is a direct domino effect in terms of midlife and risk of heart disease and stroke.
I assume the campaign’s call to action is for women in their 40s and 50s to take stock of their health. We recognize that these years are often so busy juggling the responsibilities of children, aging parents, career aspirations, and financial worries. We have created supportive resources like our wellbeing journal to help take stock and reflect on small, sustainable changes that can be made. It helps to map habits and goals and to understand obstacles to success.
The good news is that 80 percent of premature heart disease and stroke are preventable with lifestyle changes. There is a lot we can do to reduce our risk as we live our lives.
The most important thing is a heart health check. Check your blood pressure at your family doctor or in a public pharmacy. Often there are no obvious signs of high blood pressure – that’s why it’s called the silent killer.
When it comes to diet, there is good evidence that a Mediterranean diet can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, and even alleviate some of the symptoms of menopause.
Regarding physical activity, it is about incorporating it into daily life. The gym isn’t for everyone, but you can fit in a brisk daily walk and 30 minutes a day can be broken up into multiple sessions. As long as your heart is pumping, you will benefit.
Taking care of mental health is also vital, and that follows from what we’ve said about women who are so busy and who feel that the self-care part is kind of a waste of time. But it can also be as simple as getting some fresh air or reading a book.
Again, when we think of a heart attack, we picture a man grabbing his arm or chest. In women, an attack often does not look like this. It can appear like indigestion or even just fatigue. They’re not symptoms that create the same sense of urgency, and women tend to think, “Ah, it’s going to be great.”
As part of our campaign, there was a case study of a woman who drove herself to the hospital after having a heart attack. It sounds like a joke, but at the same time it is not a surprise. We’re just not that aware of the signs and need to take our time to take stock.
The Irish Heart Foundation’s website, irishheart.ie, is a rich source of information on disease prevention, lifestyle support and specific advice for women. On the website you can download the Her Heart Matters journal with practical heart health steps
https://www.independent.ie/life/health-wellbeing/health-features/women-are-six-times-more-likely-to-die-from-heart-disease-and-stroke-than-they-are-from-breast-cancer-42039333.html “Women are six times more likely to die from heart disease and stroke than from breast cancer”