"The truth about the ‘Hollywood heart attack’"

May 02, 2019

The Heart Foundation’s Heart Week has many goals: to raise awareness of the symptoms of heart disease, reduce the lifestyle factors that cause it and — importantly — dispel the myth of the “Hollywood heart attack”.

As Director of Prevention at the Heart Foundation, Julie Anne Mitchell, notes, it’s always a man who is dramatically struck down by a heart attack on TV and in the movies, his hands often dramatically clutching his chest.

“The standard stereotype is of a man having a heart attack and that is what you see on TV or the movies,” Ms Mitchell says.

“They’re falling over at a barbecue, golf course or in a meeting, and you rarely see women actually suffering from heart disease.

“It’s the classic Hollywood heart attack.”

Conversely, we often see women depicted as having breast cancer and dying from it on TV and movies — but very little instances of women suffering from heart disease.

“Certainly there is no competition between diseases, and cancer organisations have done a fantastic job of raising awareness of breast cancer,” Ms Mitchell says.

“However, heart foundations around the world, perhaps didn’t click on early enough to the issue of heart disease affecting women.

“But certainly it’s an international movement now.”

Ms Mitchell says part of the aim of the Heart Foundation was to clear up these misconceptions surrounding women and heart disease.

“Almost three times as many women will die of heart disease compared to breast cancer,” Ms Mitchell says.

“Awareness is low and I think that most people think that heart disease is a threat to men, but it’s a threat to women as well.

“We need to raise women’s awareness to have a heart check as well as the warning sides of a heart attack.”

The Heart Foundation’s Heart Week, which runs from April 28 to May 4, is aimed at highlighting the threat of heart disease to Australians — both men and women.

“More men will be diagnosed with heart disease, but the death rates from heart disease are similar among both men and women,” Ms Mitchell says.

“So what this indicates is that there is disparity in care between men and women, with fewer women encouraged to have a heart health check, and fewer women aware that they even need one.

“Even when women do get to hospital, there is a disparity in care in terms of referral to diagnostic tests.”

Health guidelines recommend that people who are 45 or older should go to their doctor for a heart health check. If you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander then the recommended ago is 35.

The health check is simple and the lifestyle questions take mere minutes, Ms Mitchell says.

“The heart check is a conversation essentially where a doctor will take a big picture look at a person’s risk of developing heart disease based on a number of factors,” Ms Mitchell says.

“This will involve factors such as lifestyle, exercise, diet, whether they smoke, as well as blood pressure and their cholesterol.”

Family history will also be canvassed, as that can determine the likelihood of developing the disease down the track.

If the test results indicate a high risk of a heart attack or stroke, patients should not despair as there are still plenty of things you can do to ward off the development of heart disease

“We know that 90 per cent of heart attacks could be prevented if people identified risk factors early enough,” Ms Mitchell says.

For a full description of the symptoms of a heart attack, for both men and women, visit:

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This story was written by Johanna Leggatt. Johanna is an Australian journalist with more than 15 years’ experience in both print and online. She has worked across a wide range of subject areas, including health, property, finance, interiors, and arts.

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