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Heart disease is the number one killer of Australian women.1 In fact, heart disease kills three times as many women as breast cancer.2

Sadly, an Australian woman dies from heart disease every hour and 50 women suffer a heart attack every day.3 More than 48,000 women are treated in hospital for heart disease every year.4

Research shows that complications such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes during pregnancy can increase a woman’s risk of heart disease later in life.5

There are recommendations women can take to reduce their risk of developing heart disease, at any stage in their lives.

What is heart disease?

Heart disease refers to a range of conditions that affect the heart. The term ‘heart disease’ is often used interchangeably with the term ‘cardiovascular disease,’ which refers to all diseases of the heart and circulation. These include coronary heart disease, atrial fibrillation, heart attack, congenital heart disease and stroke.

The risk

While there is no one cause of heart disease, there are several factors that increase risk. Just a few simple lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthier diet and participating in regular physical activity, can help every women reduce their risk.

It’s also important to be aware of heart disease and heart attack symptoms. These can present themselves differently in women than in men, which can lead to a delay in seeking medical help.

Heart attack symptoms in women

Because the symptoms of a heart attack can be different in women than in men, many women are unaware of the warning signs of heart disease or heart attack. In the event of a heart attack, women are also less likely than men to seek help quickly.

While men often experience central chest pain when having a heart attack, women commonly interpret this pain as indigestion simply because they do not expect a heart attack.

When experiencing a heart attack, women are also more likely to feel:

  • Pain in the jaw, back or neck
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea, vomiting and cold sweats
  • Overwhelming weakness or fatigue
  • Anxiety, lethargy and loss of appetite.

Our research

Professor Annemarie Hennessy’s Vascular Immunology team is investigating ways to safely prolong pregnancy without premature delivery by studying placental growth and the pharmacology of aspirin.

Dr Clare Arnott, a visiting scientist with the Clinical Research team, has established NSW’s first Women’s Heart Clinic which focuses on gender-specific risk factors such as hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. She leverages her science research using HRI’s state-of-the-art facilities.


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018, Causes of Death 2017, ABS cat. no. 3303.0, September.
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2010. Women and heart disease: cardiovascular profile of women in Australia. Cardiovascular disease series no. 33. Cat. no. CVD 49. Canberra: AIHW.
  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Causes of Death 2014 (3303.0). March 2016.
  4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, National Hospital Morbidity Database 2012/13
  5. Lowe et al. Society of Obstetric Medicine of Australia and New Zealand 2014. Guideline for the Management of Hypertensive Disorders of Pregnancy 2014. Sydney: SOMANZ.

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