Women urged to look out for signs of heart disease and stroke

Irish Heart Foundation says six times more women die of conditions than breast cancer

The Irish Heart Foundation launched the 'Red Alert' campaign which runs for September. The campaign aims to highlight that cardiovascular disease is the biggest killer of women in Ireland.


Almost 90 per cent of women in Ireland do not know heart disease and stroke are the biggest causes of death among females in the country, according to an Irish Heart Foundation survey.

Dr Angie Brown, a consultant cardiologist and IHF medical director, said women largely viewed heart attacks as a man’s problem.

However, Central Statistics Offices figures show 4,388 women died from cardiovascular disease in 2014, almost the same number as among men.

“Most women are more concerned about breast cancer even though six times as many women die from heart disease and stroke in Ireland each year,” she said. “I was surprised the awareness was so poor. Women present later as we protected by our hormones earlier on in life.”

The results of the survey were released on Tuesday at the announcement of the foundation’s Red Alert campaign, which runs in September and attempts to raise awareness of the conditions and the fact they are largely preventable.

Dr Brown said symptoms of a heart attack for women may be different to those for men and are more vague, such as nausea, tiredness, shortness of breath rather than the more expected crushing pain in the chest.

She said other symptoms included back or jaw pain, sweatiness, indigestion or shoulder pain.

“Unfortunately this can mean that women delay in getting to the hospital and therefore lose valuable time for the necessary treatment,” she said.

Dr Brown said 80 per cent of women who have heart attacks under the age of 40 are smokers. She said women metabolise nicotine faster than men so each cigarette increased a woman’s risk a lot more than it would in a man.

Dr Brown said women, especially after menopause, were at a higher risk of having a heart disease or stroke.

“It can happen when you are younger but women are more at risk older,” she said. “Cardiovascular disease can start when you are a teenager. But even if you have it, you can slow it down significantly. It always worth doing something.”

Having a balanced and healthy diet reduces the risk of developing the conditions, Dr Brown added.

Publisher and broadcaster Norah Casey, an ambassador for the campaign, said she became very conscious around issues of prevention after losing her father at to a heart attack in his sleep when he was 69-years-old.

“It was devastating and a crushing lesson to learn about the importance of heart health,” she said.

“One of the biggest regrets we had is we didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. So if there’s anything I can do that can help prevent other people dying in the same way to raise awareness as it’s a very preventable disease.”

Case study: ‘A ticking time bomb’

Maura Canning (44), from east Galway, said she was a “ticking time bomb” and had no idea her life was in danger before she decided to have her blood pressure checked.

Three years ago at a conference she, by chance, passed an Irish Heart Foundation blood pressure check and decided to get examined.

“It was really high. The nurse told me to see my doctor the next day,” she said.

“I was really shocked. I had no side affects, I was just really tired...You can be walking around with no symptoms and not realise you have it.”

Ms Canning, who has two children and comes from a farming background, said her GP recommended she monitor her blood pressure.

After she left a wedding early the following week she took a reading that was very high and decided to go to the local hospital.

“I didn’t feel great. When the hospital saw my blood pressure they couldn’t understand how I hadn’t had a heart attack or stroke already. It was 226 over 118.

“God only knows what would have happened me if I didn’t get it checked that time by chance.”

Ms Canning said since realising her heart problems she has focussed on time management. “I’m not always rushing around like I used to now. Stress has a lot to do with it,” she said.

“You could be the picture of health, like I look, but not realise you’ve disease. There’s no symptoms in some cases. Make sure you check your blood pressure.”

More information is available at www.irishheart.ie/redalert