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Cardiovascular disease is a major threat to the health of Australian women, according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The report Women and heart disease: Cardiovascular profile of women in Australia was funded by the National Heart Foundation of Australia and shows that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death among women and was responsible for over a quarter of years of life lost to premature death among women.

'In 2006, more than 24,100 women died of CVD-this was more than one-third of all women who died that year,' said Susana Senes of the Institute's Cardiovascular, Diabetes and Kidney Unit.

Cardiovascular disease, which includes coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and heart failure, is a highly preventable and treatable group of diseases.

'In many ways, CVD is seen as a man's disease, however the overall risk of developing CVD is only slightly lower in women than in men,' Ms Senes said.

About 2 million Australian women have CVD. Of these, about 226,000 women have CHD, 168,000 have had a stroke and 176,000 have heart failure.

The impact of CVD on women and on the health system is clear. About $2,683 million was spent in 2004-05 treating CVD in women. In 2007-08, about 2 million women filled 36.5 million prescriptions for cardiovascular medicines through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and the Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. This accounted for over half of all users and over half of all prescriptions for these medicines that year.

CVD is also responsible for a significant proportion of general practitioner workloads - GPs treated CVD problems at one in every five visits with women in 2007-08.

More than 90% of Australian women have at least one modifiable risk factor for CVD, and half of all women have two or three.

'What is concerning is that many of these risk factors are already common among young women. From as young as 35-44 years, it is more common for women to be overweight or obese than to have a healthy weight, and one in five women aged 20-29 years smoke daily,' Ms Senes said.

There is enormous potential to improve the risk profile of Australian women and thus reduce the number of women and families affected by CVD.

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Further information: Ms Susana Senes, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1171, mob. 0400 344 572

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1032.