RedFeb Heart Research Month: What is Heart Disease & the symptoms

2 February 2016

We all have a heart, so we all have a vested interest in ongoing research into this single leading cause of death in Australia.

Heart disease is a major burden on our economy, not to mention our emotions. They are not many of us who are untouched by some sort of heart problem amongst family or friends. Despite improvements over the last few decades, heart disease remains Australia’s biggest health burden.

According to the Heart Foundation’s most recent figures from 2013, 43,603 deaths were attributed to cardiovascular disease (CVD). That’s 1 Australian every 12 minutes. Scary.

What is cardiovascular disease (CVD)?

What is cardiovascular disease (CVD)?Many people think all heart problems come under the heart attack banner. Not so. CVD comes in a wide variety of forms, such as:


Angina is pain or discomfort that happens when your heart can’t get enough blood and oxygen.


An abnormal heart beat is called an arrhythmia.

Atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is a type of abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) of your heart.


This is a disease of the heart muscle which affects any age group and is a serious lifelong condition.

Chronic heart failure

Another very serious condition. Unfortunately, there’s no cure, but your doctor can help you manage the problems it causes and improve your quality of life. Heart failure now affects 1 in 20 Australians.

Coronary heart disease

Coronary heart disease happens when your coronary arteries get narrower and reduce the blood flow to the heart.

Heart attack

A heart attack happens when there is a sudden complete blockage of an artery that supplies blood to an area of your heart.

Rheumatic heart disease

If you have acute rheumatic fever and it’s not treated, it can lead to rheumatic heart disease.


There are 2 types of stroke: ischaemic stroke haemorrhagic stroke where a blocked or burst artery interrupts blood supply to the brain.

Heart Research Month happens every February: RedFeb

A national Australian initiative, Heart Research Month, a.k.a. RedFeb, raises awareness about the impact of heart disease and the need for ongoing research. During February all Australians are encouraged to make heart health a priority and proactively participate in the fight against heart disease.

The RedFeb campaign helps Heart Research Australia to fund innovative first-stage research towards finding a cure and creating more heart survivors.

RedFeb promotes the heart healthy benefits of exercising, with all sorts of fun activities planned. It’s all about coming together as part of the Red Army to protect future generations from this largely preventable disease.

RedFeb is not only for individuals who want to make a difference, but it’s also a great opportunity for the corporate sector to get involved and encourage staff to make their heart health a priority in a fun way.

So get ready to paint the town red by wearing red and raising money for Heart Research Month in February. Get involved on the RedFeb website.

Symptoms of a heart attack: Learn the warning signs

Although chest pain or discomfort is a common symptom of a heart attack, some people will not experience chest pain at all, while others will experience a range of chest pain or discomfort from mild to severe.

The classic symptoms of heart attack include a feeling of extreme pressure on the chest and chest pain, including a squeezing or full sensation. This can be accompanied by pain in one or both arms, jaw, back, stomach, or neck.

During a heart attack, some people may experience one symptom, while some experience a combination of symptoms. Other symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Light-headedness
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat

Although chest pain and pressure are the characteristic symptoms, women are somewhat more likely than men to experience heart attack that does not occur in this typical fashion. It is important that women learn the real symptoms they can expect, since heart disease kills four times as many women as breast cancer (Heart Research Australia).

Women may experience different symptoms

In fact, research has found more than 40% of women will not experience chest pain during a heart attack. Instead, some women with heart attacks may experience more of the other symptoms, such as:

  • Light-headedness
  • Nausea
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Fainting
  • Dizziness
  • Pressure in the upper back
  • Tightness in the chest, neck, jaw, arms, shoulders

Call Triple Zero (000)

If you think you may be having a heart attack, call Triple Zero (000). The operator will work out whether you need an ambulance. The operator can also give you lifesaving advice, so don’t hesitate to call.

Too many people die from heart attack because they take too long to call an ambulance. Acting quickly can save your life and limit damage to your heart. And if it’s a false alarm, well, that’s the best thing that could happen.

Know your risks

Being aware of your own risk factors is the first step to avoiding a heart attack or stroke. Even though heart disease is the single biggest killer of Australians, it can mostly be prevented. The Heart Foundation suggests we divide the risks up as follows…

Heart Disease Risk Factors you can’t change

There are a few risks you can’t do much about:

Heart Disease Risk Factors you can change

Most heart disease risk factors can be changed, however, and there’s plenty you can do about them:


Being smoke-free is one of the best ways to protect your heart. If you’re a smoker, you should quit asap. For tips on how to quit smoking, we highly recommend the government’s Quitline program. Whether you’re just quitting for you, or an expectant mother quitting for two, “there’s an app for that” with Quitline. We also have some tips of our own – read this article.

High cholesterol

An imbalance of cholesterol in your blood can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

High blood pressure

Blood pressure isn’t usually something you can feel. If it’s too high, it needs to be treated.


It’s important to manage your diabetes to help prevent a heart attack or stroke.

Being inactive

Not getting enough physical activity and sitting too much isn’t good for your heart health.

Being overweight

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of heart disease and other health problems.

Unhealthy diet

Eating a varied diet of healthy foods can help with your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol.

Depression, social isolation & lack of quality support

There can be a greater risk of heart disease for people who have depression, are socially isolated or do not have good social support. Having a good social life with family and friends can help. Depression is more than feeling sad or low. If you feel depressed for more than two weeks, talk to your doctor, a family member or someone you know well. For more information, visit

Share this article