Press Release – New study finds important genetic differences for men and women in heart attacks

Press Release – New study finds important genetic differences for men and women in heart attacks

Her Heart has campaigned for the past 5 years in order to raise awareness that heart disease is the biggest killer of women in Australia, that one in three women are diagnosed with this disease and it claims one life every hour.

A recent Australian study* found women with heart disease had more active genes linked to cells of the vessel wall, whereas the genes that were more active in men were linked to the immune system. This suggests that the difference is in smooth muscle cells (most common in the wall of the arteries) which are critical cells in causing heart attack. In addition, their research supports the importance of risk screening women for risk factors and a family history.

In a past survey of the Her Heart community, of over 800 women we found nearly 55% of women across age groups had never had a heart health check by their doctor, even though 39%  had one or more risk factors for heart disease. The largest age group experiencing heart disease was found to be 45-54 years in the survey results. An interesting finding was nearly 50% responded that the symptoms of heart disease were different for women compared to men.

Her Heart’s CEO, Prof Karen-leigh Edward said that there are several inequalities when it comes to heart health for women.

“Along the whole patient care trajectory we know that women are under diagnosed, under screened and under treated, and even when they do get treatment their outcomes are often worse due to the delay in getting these life-saving interventions”.

“The research is clear that while women are slower to respond to the warning signs (for a whole variety of reasons such as being the primary carer, increased responsibilities in the home) and when they do present to the emergency department they are likely to receive a lower rating score which delays access to treatment. The statistics show that women receive less diagnostic tests such as angiograms and important treatments such as angioplasty (to repair the blockage)”.

Professor Edward suggests that there are many reasons for this. “There is an acute lack of awareness not only amongst women but also some health professionals and much of the health promotion and campaigns in Australia has been geared towards men and their symptoms such as central chest pain radiating down their arm”.

“We have tried extremely hard at Her Heart to speak to the 11 million women in Australia through specific campaigns and connecting with women across all the ages.  We have encouraged women to ask for help if they feel unwell and not put off calling for an ambulance if they are concerned about warning signs which could include shortness of breath, fatigue, pains in their chest that might go to their jaw, numbness in their hands”.

“We chose Valentine’s Day to encourage women to get a heart health check, as we know that the biggest increase is in women aged 35-54, which is a lot younger than people think.  We encourage all Australian women, in particular aged 45 years and over, and Indigenous women aged from 30 years, to see their GP in order to get a Heart Health Check”.

We also know that this is not all bad news, as heart disease is 80% preventable. For those women with a family history there are many things that can be done in terms of health promotion, knowing your risk (many women have 2 or 3 risk factors) and lifestyle changes can make a significant difference.

We are calling on the Federal Government to support Her Hearts National Campaign in the May Budget so that we can roll out important campaigns to the Her Heart community plus access a number of other women through important collaborations.

Prof Edward states “We must address this issue, heart disease is not primarily a man’s health issue, we lose 1 woman an hour – 24 a day and these needless deaths need to stop”.

*Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute (2021, March)


Prof Karen-leigh Edward
CEO, Her Heart