Women and Heart Disease: Know the Facts

Although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a "man’s disease," around the same number of women and men die each year of heart disease in the United States. According to the CDC, despite increases in awareness over the past decade, only 54 percent of women recognize that heart disease is their number 1 killer.

Did You Know?

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for African American and white women in the United States. Among Hispanic women, heart disease and cancer cause roughly the same number of deaths each year. For American Indian or Alaska Native and Asian or Pacific Islander women, heart disease is second only to cancer.

About 5.8 percent of all white women, 7.6 percent of black women, and 5.6 percent of Mexican American women have coronary heart disease.

Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms. Even if you have no symptoms, you may still be at risk for heart disease.

Symptoms: Male vs. Female

It is important to recognize that a number of heart disease symptoms are different for women than for men. Women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain, such as:

  • Upper abdominal discomfort, upper back pain, indigestion, heartburn, nausea/vomiting
  • A sensation in the form of pressure or squeezing in the center of the chest spreading to the neck, shoulder or jaw
  • Fluttering feelings in the chest (palpitations)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue and sleep disturbance

What Are the Risk Factors?

Although several traditional risk factors for coronary artery disease — such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity — affect women and men, other factors may play a bigger role in the development of heart disease in women. They include:

  • Overweight and obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Depression or mental stress
  • Poor diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Menopause
  • Excessive alcohol use

Screening

To reduce your chances of getting heart disease it’s important to make your health a priority.

Know your blood pressure. Having uncontrolled blood pressure can result in heart disease. High blood pressure has no symptoms so it’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly.

Talk to your healthcare provider about whether you should be tested for diabetes. Having uncontrolled diabetes raises your chances of heart disease.

Quit smoking.

Discuss checking your cholesterol and triglycerides with your healthcare provider.

Make healthy food choices. Being overweight and obese raises your risk of heart disease.

Limit alcohol intake to one drink a day.

Lower your stress level and find healthy ways to cope with stress.