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Heart disease (or cardiovascular disease) is often thought of as a “man’s disease,” but the reality is heart disease is the leading cause of death in women in the United States — killing more women than all cancers combined.

But heart disease, which includes heart attack, stroke, and heart failure, affects women and men differently. The symptoms are not the same, either. Studies show that women who experience heart attack or stroke exhibit more subtle symptoms than men. Knowing the unique symptoms could reduce your risk.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms below, please call 9-1-1 or go to your nearest hospital right away.

NewYork-Presbyterian has two cardiovascular programs dedicated to treating women’s unique heart health needs. The patients at the Women’s Heart Program at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and the Women’s Heart Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center receive an in-depth cardiovascular evaluation, a personalized treatment plan, and, if necessary, multidisciplinary care from top-rated specialists throughout the NewYork-Presbyterian network.

Heart Attack

A heart attack doesn’t discriminate — it can happen to anyone at any age. Many women who have a heart attack do not know it. The most common symptom in women is pain, pressure, or discomfort in the chest. But some women experience a heart attack without chest pain — and chest pain is not always the most prominent symptom. Women may also experience:

  • Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in one or both arms
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Unusual fatigue


Know Your Risk

Although many risk factors for heart disease — such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity — affect women and men, other factors may increase a woman’s odds of developing heart disease. Conditions like diabetes, depression, and smoking put women at higher risk of heart disease than men. Women with autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, may also have a higher risk of heart disease.

Know Your Numbers

The first step of knowing your risk of developing heart disease is knowing your numbers. Talking to your healthcare provider about your blood pressure, blood sugar, body mass index, and cholesterol can help you take charge of your heart health.

The American Heart Association recommends:

  • Blood pressure testing during each regular health care visit beginning at age 20
  • Blood glucose testing every three years starting at age 45
  • Checking weight/body mass index during every health care visit starting at age 20
  • Measure waist circumference as needed starting at age 20
  • Cholesterol testing every five years starting at age 20
    • Cholesterol testing should occur more often if total cholesterol is above 200; if you are a woman older than 50; if you’re a woman whose HDL is less than 50 or a man whose HDL is less than 40; if you have other cardiovascular risk factors.