Women & Heart Disease
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.
Heart disease, which includes heart attack, stroke, and heart failure, may affect women and men differently. Studies show that women who experience a heart attack or stroke often exhibit more subtle symptoms than men.
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 and men experience a heart attack without chest pain — and chest pain is not always the most prominent symptom. Some people experience:
- Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in one or both arms
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Unusual fatigue
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, please call 9-1-1 or go to your nearest hospital right away.
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.
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 (more often if total is above 200; a woman older than 50; a woman whose HDL is less than 50 or a man whose HDL is less than 40; or if other cardiovascular risk factors are present).