One in four women in Ireland die from heart disease and stroke according to the Irish Heart Foundation, who have revealed that cardiovascular disease is more prevalent among women than breast cancer. CSO data shows that in 2021, a total of 4,145 women died from cardiovascular disease which accounts for 26% of all female deaths. The data from 2021 also shows that 686 women died from breast cancer in the same year, which means that women in Ireland are six times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than breast cancer.
This comes as a surprise to most. According to a poll conducted by Ipsos on behalf of the Irish Heart Foundation, more than half of women (58%) said this was higher than they thought. From about the age of 40, a woman’s risk of heart disease and stroke increases as she moves into menopause. And yet the Ipsos poll reveals that almost one-third (30%) of women do not have enough time each day to focus on their health. As a result, the Irish Heart Foundation has launched the ‘Her Heart Matters’ campaign which aims to encourage women in their 40s, 50s and beyond to review their lifestyles and make vital, sustainable changes to improve their heart health.
Speaking about the launch of the ‘Her Heart Matters’ campaign, Medical Director of the Irish Heart Foundation and consultant cardiologist, Dr Angie Brown, explains why cardiovascular disease is something women need to take seriously. “Cardiovascular disease in women remains understudied, under-recognised, underdiagnosed, and undertreated. Early detection and management of cardiovascular risk factors are essential if we are to improve women’s heart health and reduce early deaths in women.”
Women’s risk of cardiovascular disease increases as they move into their 40s and 50s and experience the menopause. “Menopause causes a drop in the levels of the hormone oestrogen and blood vessels need oestrogen to stay healthy and flexible,” explains Dr Brown. “Lower oestrogen due to menopause leads to higher LDL, or bad cholesterol. This can increase plaque buildup, stiffening the arteries and leading to high blood pressure. Therefore, it’s important that women in their 40s and 50s really take stock of their health and make efforts to live healthily.”
Despite the risk of heart issues increasing as women enter their 40s and 50s, just 13% of women are aware that they are at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease after experiencing the menopause. Even worse – just 4% are aware that women are at greater risk of stroke after the menopause. The link between menopause and heart disease should be more widely discussed but more than three-quarters of women (76%) surveyed said that the topic of menopause has never been brought up during consultations with a healthcare professional.
“Making heart health a priority should be on the top of every woman’s to-do list,” says Janis Morrissey, the Irish Heart Foundation’s Director of Health Promotion. “Women typically have very busy lives, juggling professional and caring responsibilities and with many things on their to-do list. We understand that this can leave them short of time and energy, but this September we are calling on the women of Ireland to take a little time to put themselves first and make their heart health a priority.” 80% of early heart disease and stroke can be prevented through small, sustainable changes to our lifestyle. As part of our ‘Her Heart Matters’ campaign, we have developed a free online self-assessment tool so that women can identify what changes they would like to make in their lives and a wellbeing journal to support them along the way.”
Speaking about the launch of the campaign, ‘Her Heart Matters’ ambassador, Presenter and TV Personality Glenda Gilson commented “I am delighted to be working with the Irish Heart Foundation on such a powerful, important campaign this September. Women wear many hats so it isn’t uncommon for them to put themselves last and prioritise the health of those around them. I was surprised to find out that I have high cholesterol, a risk factor in heart disease, so I know the importance of making heart health a priority and setting aside time for your wellbeing. I hope the Her Heart Matters campaign convinces women to listen to their bodies, put themselves on their to-do list and make their health a priority.”
The campaign is being supported by HSE, Health & Wellbeing as part of their delivery of Healthy Ireland, the national framework to support health and wellbeing in Ireland. Speaking at the launch, Sarah O’Brien, National Lead: Healthy Eating & Active Living Programme, Health & Wellbeing, HSE, said “Creating awareness and helping women to make informed and sustainable healthier lifestyle changes will assist in reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Making gradual changes today can lead to bigger health benefits into the future.”
The launch of the powerful new ‘Her Heart Matters’ campaign coincides with an exciting new year-long fundraising and awareness partnership with Marks & Spencer. Marks & Spencer will support the charity by raising awareness amongst their customers of the risk of heart disease and stroke to women and raising vital funds to support the work of the Irish Heart Foundation. Speaking at the launch, Frances Deasy, Head of Marketing and Sales, Marks & Spencer, said “At Marks & Spencer, we take pride in supporting Irish charities that make a difference in the lives of people across our communities. We are delighted to be teaming up with the Irish Heart Foundation for this year-long partnership to protect women’s hearts. We are committed to supporting the life-saving work of the Irish Heart Foundation. Every one of our female store colleagues, all the women who shop with us and every woman in Ireland matters, and we want to help them protect themselves. This is a real opportunity to raise awareness across Ireland and to make a difference.”
As part of the campaign, the Irish Heart Foundation is also holding a free webinar for women on World Heart Day, Thursday 29 September. Her Heart Matters: Let’s Talk about Menopause will bring together a panel of experts for a conversation on women’s real experience of menopause, its impact on heart health and lots of practical information to help women. The free online event runs from 12.30pm to 1.45pm and you can register by visiting irishheart.ie.
Pic Credit: Kieran Harnett