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Cardiovascular health - fact sheet

Many people think that cardiovascular disease is more likely to be associated with men; however, one type of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, causes more deaths in women than men in Australia.

Download the fact sheet

What is cardiovascular disease?

Cardiovascular disease is the general termused to include diseases of the heart (cardio)and of the blood vessels (veins and arteries).Most cardiovascular diseases involve the heartand the brain. Conditions such as deep veinthrombosis (DVT) involve veins in other parts ofthe body, such as the legs.

Cardiovascular disease tends to developover time, but here are some important facts:

  • Heart disease is the leading cause ofdeath in women in Australia
  • Women are four times more likely to diefrom heart disease than breast cancer.

Types of cardiovascular disease

Aneurysm

A widening or bulge in an artery or vein that can burst.

Angina

Discomfort or chest pain caused by lack of blood flow and oxygen to the heart muscle.

Atherosclerosis

This is the gradual build-up of fatty deposits(plaque) on the inner walls of the arteries. Itcauses arteries to narrow, resulting in reducedblood flow to the heart and other organs. It cancause angina, heart attack and stroke.

Coronary heart disease

When atherosclerosis affects the arteries of theheart, it is called coronary heart disease.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

Occurs when a clot forms in a vein situateddeep in the body.

Heart attack

Occurs when an artery to the heart becomescompletely blocked and blood flow is stoppedto part of the heart muscle.

Know the symptoms of heart attack in women

Women can feel pain in the centre of thechest when having a heart attack, but notalways. Rather than the chest pain men oftenfeel, women may experience breathlessness,nausea, back pain, tightness or discomfort inthe arms, shortness of breath and a generalfeeling of being unwell.

If you experience one or several of these symptoms, and they progressively get worse for at least 10 minutes, it is important to tell someone.

Call 000 without delay.

High blood pressure

Continuously high blood pressure can damagearteries, the heart and other organs and adds tothe risk of having a heart attack and stroke.

Stroke

If an artery to the brain becomes blocked,or blood vessels in the brain bleed, damageto that part of the brain may cause lossof consciousness, weakness, numbness,paralysis, dizziness, loss of balance, blurred ordecreased vision, and difficulty in speaking orunderstanding.

Causes of cardiovascular disease

Causes can be related to lifestyle, such as lackof physical activity, poor nutrition and smoking.Some causes such as a family history of heartdisease can’t be changed and some causes arelesser known, such as depression and beingsocially isolated.

What can you do for cardiovascular health?

The way to prevent cardiovascular disease isto do something about the causes that putyou at risk.

  • Know and understand your blood pressure numbers – get regular checks
  • Know and understand your cholesterol levels – get regular checks
  • Try a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, low-fatdairy foods, nuts, wholegrains, fish, chickenand lean meat, keeping saturated fats andsalt to a minimum (eg the DASH diet) – thistype of diet can help reduce blood pressure
  • Soluble fibre is important in lowering ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol, so include foods such as oats, muesli, oat and rice bran, barley, legumes, fruit and vegetables
  • Plant sterols lower cholesterol levels by stopping the absorption of cholesterol from the gut – they are found naturally in vegetable oils and most plant foods but are also in products such as spreads (eg Pro-Activ®) and milks (eg HeartActive®)
  • Aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days
  • Don’t have more than two standard alcoholic drinks per day
  • Take steps to manage your weight if you are overweight
  • Depression and diabetes have been linked to cardiovascular disease, so it is important to manage these conditions
  • Some medications will help to lower cholesterol or manage high blood pressure – discuss medications with your doctor
  • A doctor is your best source of information. Referral to other accredited health practitioners may also help, such as:
    • cardiologists to test and monitor your heart conditions
    • dietitians to help with weight management and healthy eating
    • psychologists if you have feelings of depression or loneliness
    • exercise physiologists to help identify the right physical activity for your age, lifestyle and medical conditions
    • naturopaths for advice about supplements and vitamins.