Julie Ann Mitchell, Director of The National Heart Foundation of Australia (Heart Foundation) joins HPR host Tabetha Moreto in conversation where she talks about the fantastic work her organization does. She also highlights the importance of raising awareness regarding disease in women which until now is incorrectly considered to be only a ‘’man’s health issue.’’
Guest: Julie Ann Mitchell
Presenter: Tabetha Moreto
Bio: Julie Anne is the NSW Director of Cardiovascular Health programs at the Heart Foundation. She has been with the Heart Foundation since 2006 and has responsibility for the development and implementation of a range of cardiovascular health programs in NSW covering the areas of nutrition, physical activity, workplace wellness, tobacco control and clinical issues.
She was National chair of the Heart Foundation’s women and heart disease program called “Go Red for Women” from 2008-12 and she continues as the Heart Foundation’s ‘national spokesperson’ on women and heart disease. Currently she is the Heart Foundation’s National Lead on Secondary Prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Tabetha Moreto: Hello everyone. You’re listening to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host for today, Tabetha Moreto. Our guest today is Julie Anne Mitchell, Director of the National Heart Foundation of Australia. Today, we’re going to talk about her organization and the amazing work that she does there. Without further ado, welcome to the show, Julie. It’s very nice to have you here.
Julie Anne Mitchell: Thank you for inviting me, Tabetha.
T: My pleasure. So Julie, please tell the audience more about yourself and the nature of your work.
J: Sure. I’m the Health Director here at the Heart Foundation. I’ve always had an interest in public health and my experience has involved working in women’s health particularly around cervical screening and breast screening but I’ve also worked in the areas of public health nutrition and in tobacco control. Really, I’ve always had a passion to improve the health of the public but also a focus on equity and justice.
T: That’s wonderful. So how did you get involved with cardiovascular health? How did you get started there?
J: Well, I came across to the Heart Foundation to take up the role of Health Director. The role of the Heart Foundation or the mission of the Heart Foundation is to prevent heart disease and improve the heart health and quality of life of all Australians. So that was or is an ambitious goal and one that I felt I had the skills to assist and deliver on.
T: That’s wonderful to know. Can you tell us how prevalent is heart disease in Australia?
J: Well, it is a leading cause of death in both men and women but I would say that in regards to women the awareness is not as high as it should be. I think it’s fair to say around the world, heart disease in women is under-recognized, under-researched and undermanaged. And so when I joined the Heart Foundation ten years ago, one of my mandates was to actually develop an Australian women and heart disease program to raise that awareness and address that issue.
T: Yes. I agree with you and it’s been proven that, like you said earlier, that heart disease in women is not really understood. So can you please explain why is it that heart disease is considered to be only a man’s disease? What’s the reason behind this misconception?
J: Look, I think there are a range of factors. Firstly, when we look to our social environment, our films, our videos, our books, we often see the depiction of men having heart attacks or men having heart disease. That classic image of a man clutching his chest and falling to the ground either on a golf course or over a barbecue, rarely do we see heart disease presented as a female experience. So I think that perception is quite a strong one. Secondly, most of the research that has been done into heart disease in the past has been done on men and then findings extrapolated to women. So women’s experience of heart disease has not been captured or understood in the same way that men and heart disease has been. And then I think there is a perception that women’s health is really focused just mainly on reproductive issues and breast and cervical or gynecological cancers and so that’s tended to obscure the fact that heart disease is as relevant issue for men as it is for women.
T: That was an excellent explanation. Thank you so much for that and that’s true. It’s a good thing to know that someone like you, Julie is out there raising awareness for heart disease especially for women. Like what we talked about earlier this is something that people don’t really pay attention to in women.
J: That’s right. I think cancer organizations have done a fabulous job in raising awareness of screening and the importance of reducing your risk of cancer. Heart organizations equally need to do a job in raising awareness around heart disease and so that’s why the Heart Foundation has focused on this in the last ten years and we’ve been tracking women’s attitudes and beliefs and we’re pleased to say that we’ve increased awareness about heart disease in women from 2 in 10 women to just under 4 and 10 women. This is good. We won’t be happy until we have 10 in 10 women recognizing that heart disease is an issue that is personally relevant and one that they can take action to reduce their risk of.
T: That’s wonderful. Everybody should be aware that heart disease is not only a man’s problem. It’s also a women’s issue. Both men and women are equal in this issue.
J: That’s right.
T: Thank you so much, Julie. I would love to chat with you more but we’re running out of time. But before we go what is your main takeaway message to all of our listeners out there?
J: Look, I think the important message is that every person should have a heart health check. Everyone needs to establish a baseline of what their personal risk of heart disease is so that they can then they and their doctor can put in place a strategy to manage that risk particularly blood pressure risk, high cholesterol, blood sugar risks but also attention paid to lifestyle risks such as physical activity, eating well, stopping smoking. The second thing I would say is that all people should be aware of the warning signs of a heart attack. Heart attacks are not always what you think. Most people identify with chest pain. What is less understood is the fact that there are non-chest pain symptoms that are equally important – symptoms like jaw pain, back pain, arm pain, a feeling of extreme nauseousness or fatigue. These also can be the warning signs of a heart attack. Women are more likely to experience those non-chest pain symptoms. So for us all to be aware and to take action and call triple zero, we think something is wrong is important. No one’s ever died of embarrassment but if it turns out to be a case of indigestion, that’s not necessarily a bad thing either.
T: That was a fantastic message and one more question Julie. How can our listeners reach out to you or how can they contact you?
J: Look, the best way is to visit our website heartfoundation.org.au. Go to our women and heart disease page if that’s what you are interested in. In the month of June this year, we’ll be focusing on our annual “Making the Invisible Visible” campaign which is all about raising women’s awareness of heart disease but also calling, sending out a message to physicians or clinicians to actually reinforce those messages about the importance of heart health. The campaign issue will be focusing on pregnancy and vascular complications in pregnancy such as high blood pressure, preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. As we know from emerging research that these conditions don’t completely disappear post delivery. Research is now indicating that women who had these vascular complications in pregnancy are at higher risk of developing heart disease or cardiovascular disease earlier in life. We actually are making a call-out to those women, any woman who’s experienced those conditions in pregnancy to ensure that they’re talking to their doctor, they’re managing their lifestyle risk factors, they’re having their blood pressure and cholesterol checked and their blood sugars just to make sure that everything is ticking along smoothly.
T: That’s wonderful. Thank you so much, Julie for coming on the show. It was wonderful having you.
J: Thank you for having me, Tabetha.
T: And that was Julie Anne Mitchell, Director of the National Heart Foundation of Australia. If you like this interview, transcripts and archives are available at www.hpr.fm. We’re on all social media platforms. So don’t forget to follow like and subscribe. Show us some love by subscribing to our HPR YouTube channel. We’re also available for download on SoundCloud and iTunes. I’m Tabetha Moreto and this is Health Professional Radio.