Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) kills more than twice as many women as breast cancer every year in Northern Ireland, and is the single biggest killer of women worldwide. Despite this, it's often considered a man's disease and awareness is still lagging behind.
According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), heart and circulatory diseases cause a quarter (25%) of all deaths in Northern Ireland, or around 4,000 deaths each year - that's an average of 11 people every day.
CHD, the leading cause of heart attacks, is responsible for 1,600 deaths in Northern Ireland each year, or an average of around four deaths each day.
Shockingly, a recent briefing from the Foundation has revealed that women are dying needlessly from heart attacks, or not making as good a recovery as they could, because they don't receive the same care and treatment as men.
"Decades of research have transformed the likely outcome for someone suffering a heart attack," says Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, Associate Medical Director, BHF. "Yet if you are a woman, the odds are stacked differently."
The briefing called Bias and Biology: How the Gender Gap in Heart Disease is Costing Women's Lives, shows that:
n Women having a heart attack delay seeking medical help longer than men because they don't recognise the symptoms;
n A woman is 50% more likely than a man to receive the wrong initial diagnosis for a heart attack;
n Women are less likely than men to receive a number of potentially life-saving treatments in a timely way;
n Following a heart attack, women are less likely to be prescribed medications to help prevent a second heart attack.
The BHF recommends that all women over the age of 40 visit their local GP or nurse for a health check to check their cardiovascular risk at least every five years. You can also make an appointment yourself to check your blood pressure and cholesterol.
If you have a family history of heart or circulatory disease, make sure you tell your doctor or nurse.
You're considered to have a family history of heart or circulatory disease if your father or brother was under the age of 55 when they were diagnosed with a heart or circulatory disease or your mother or sister was under the age of 65 when they were diagnosed with a heart or circulatory disease.
As women get older it is increasingly important to be aware of the risk factors that can make you susceptible to developing CHD. Common risk factors include: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, being overweight and not exercising enough.
Before the menopause, women in general have a lower risk of being affected due to the hormone oestrogen which helps to control cholesterol levels and so reduces the risk of fatty plaques building up inside the artery walls.
During and after the menopause, a woman's body gradually produces less oestrogen which therefore increases the risk of the coronary arteries narrowing.
According to the BHF briefing, women's lack of awareness of this so-called 'excess risk', combined with a low uptake of health checks, means that women may be dramatically underestimating their personal risk of heart attack.
Heart attack symptoms vary from person to person, but often include:
For more information about CHD and how you can lower your risk, go to www.bhf.org.uk