Women need 'wake-up' call over cardiac risk


AS THE new year begins with many good resolutions, a consultant cardiologist has called for a dedicated national campaign to increase awareness about heart disease in women.

One in two women die from cardiovascular disease (CVD) in Ireland, which is “among the worst when compared to other countries in the European Union”, according to Galway Clinic consultant cardiologist Blaithnead Murtagh.

“Women need a personal and urgent wake-up call about their risk of heart disease,” Dr Murtagh said.

The Irish Heart Foundation has “excellent” published material on the issue, she said.

“We need to increase awareness about the risk factors that can lead to heart disease, disability or death. We need to encourage women to talk to their doctors about heart disease risk factors, and to take action to prevent or control these,” she emphasised.

“Many women do not recognise heart disease as their leading health threat. In spite of public perceptions to the contrary, women are 18 times more likely to die of CVD than of breast cancer. This highlights the lack of knowledge and understanding the majority of women have for their most serious health threat,” she explained.

A recent Irish survey found that 37 per cent of respondents believed heart disease affected mainly men. Some 63 per cent of respondents thought the symptoms of heart disease were the same for men and women, she said.

She believes women’s representation at clinical trials needs to be increased, for this reason.

“Long considered a man’s disease, heart disease in women is under diagnosed, poorly understood, under reported and inappropriately treated,” she said.

Dr Murtagh, who has spoken on this topic at multiple GP seminars throughout the State, believes collective responsibility must be taken for an awareness campaign.

“Doctors need to be as aggressive in screening for and treating risk factors in women as in men,” she said.

Dr Murtagh, who was based in the US before taking up her current position in Galway, was a member of the north American “Go Red For Women” campaign. Its goal was to reduce the impact of cardiovascular risk factors among women, and to increase the knowledge of cardiovascular disease among health professionals and the public.

Women do not have a lower risk, but a “delayed risk” of heart disease, she explained. “They tend to get disease 10 years later than men. There is an accelerated risk of heart disease after the menopause,” she said.

“There are gender differences in the importance of risk factors, presentation, investigation and treatment of heart disease,” she said.

“Smoking, diabetes, low HDL [good cholesterol], high triglycerides and a family history of cardiovascular disease are much more potent risk factors in women than in men,” she said.

Women who smoke have their first heart attack on average 19 years earlier than other women. The mortality of a woman under 50 years of age who has a heart attack is twice that of a similar-aged man, she said.

Research has shown that women who walk the equivalent of three or more hours per week have a 35 per cent lower risk of “coronary events” than women who walk infrequently.