Black women bear brunt of ‘hidden’ heart disease, research shows

Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of Australian women, with Indigenous women bearing a disproportionate burden of the ‘hidden’ problem, according to new research from the Mary Mackillop Institute for Health Research in Melbourne.

The Hidden Hearts: Cardiovascular Risk and Disease in Australian Women report found cardiovascular disease and associated diseases such as diabetes and kidney failure contributed to at least 31,000 deaths of Australian women every year.

For Indigenous Australians, cardiovascular disease is 1.2 times more common in comparison with non-Indigenous Australians with death rates for coronary artery disease the leading cause of related deaths.

Professor Simon Stewart said despite the high prevalence of cardiovascular disease in Indigenous women aged 35 or over, low awareness of the risks meant many women ignored the warning signs.

“The large majority of Australian women are still under the impression that heart disease and stroke are male diseases,” he said. “This is simply not true – in fact, in 2012-13, 14 percent of Indigenous women reported having cardiovascular disease compared with eleven percent of Indigenous men, and this number is increasing due to their extremely high cardiovascular-risk lifestyles.

“High obesity rates mean that all forms of cardio vascular disease are becoming increasingly common in younger Indigenous women. The addition of smoking, diabetes, alcohol consumption and mental health issues often seen in this demographic means that the likelihood of these young women developing cardiovascular disease in the longer-term is very real.”

More than 3000 Australian women each year will suffer a sudden and fatal cardiac event without ever reaching a hospital. Of those fortunate enough to receive hospital treatment, more than a third admitted for the first time with heart failure and stroke die within 12 months.

Professor Stewart said $3 billion was spent every year treating women in hospitals for cardiovascular related diseases, but he said the condition was preventable.

He said the public health system needed to target women in awareness campaigns and prevention programs.

The survey findings were today presented to members of federal parliament, including Health Minister Sussan Ley, at a Cardiovascular Risk and Disease in Australian Women Summit in Canberra.

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