Red Feb: Heart Disease Awareness Month by Dr Amy Harkness

February 1, 2022

Heart disease is Australia’s leading cause of death with 17,500 deaths attributed to heart disease in 2018. It is often seen as a disease which mostly affects men and can be overlooked in women, but almost every hour of every day an Australian woman dies of heart disease.

Risk Factors

Many Australians don’t know that they have coronary heart disease until they get angina (chest pain) or experience a heart attack (which can be life-threatening). The best way to know (and manage) your risk is to have a regular check-up with your GP.

Risks factors you can influence include:

  • smoking
  • high cholesterol
  • high blood pressure
  • physical inactivity
  • diabetes
  • being overweight or obese.

Risks factors you can’t control include:

  • Age: As you get older, your risk increases.
  • Gender: Men have a higher risk, but women’s risk grows and may be equal to men after menopause.
  • Ethnic background: People of some origins have higher risk. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people also have higher risk.
  • Family history: If someone in your family has cardiovascular disease, speak to your GP about how that affects your risk.


You can minimise your risk of heart disease by ensuring you lead a healthy lifestyle including:

  • eating a low-fat, low-salt and low-sugar diet, with increased plant-based foods and lean protein,
  • exercising for at least 30 minutes every day, and
  • minimising stress.

Visit your GP to keep track of your heart health indicators including cholesterol levels, blood pressure, weight, sugar levels and waist circumference.


Your GP will review the risk factors outlined above and may organise specific investigations or referrals if necessary. They can also assess your medications to determine if any adjustments are needed to optimise heart health.

If you have family history of heart disease, or a chronic disease such as high blood pressure, diabetes or overweight/obesity, you may qualify for a Chronic Disease Management Plan. This plan can include subsidised visits to allied health practitioners (such as dieticians and exercise physiologists) who can help you to manage lifestyle risk factors.

For more information about heart disease, visit Heart Research Australia and The Heart Foundation.