Women’s Heart Disease

Women experience heart disease differently than men. Consider that while chest pain and shortness of breath may signal a heart attack for both men and women, heart disease in women includes less-typical symptoms such as:

  • Severe weakness and extreme fatigue
  • Pain in the jaw, back, or neck
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat or experiencing lightheadedness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or stomach

If you have any of these signs, call 911 and get to a hospital right away.

Another difference between the genders: within one year of a heart attack, one out of every four women will die, compared to one of our every five men. The hard truth is heart disease and stroke cause one in three deaths among women each year – more than all cancers combined – and two out of every three deaths from heart attacks in women occur in those with no history of chest pain. 

Know Your Risk

Risk factors are similar for men and women, but high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety, and smoking are particularly strong risk factors for women. Knowing your total cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and body mass index is essential. Other considerations:

  • Are you taking hormone replacement therapy? This may increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, and should be stopped at the first sign of heart trouble.
  • The number of risk factors you have multiplies your chances of developing heart disease: two risk factors increase heart disease four times while three risk factors increase it 10 times. 
  • One-third of all women ages 40 – 60 have one risk factor. Another third have two risk factors, and one out of every five women has three or more risk factors. 

Learn more about your risk for heart disease by taking our heart health evaluator.

Education + Action

The good news is the more a woman understands heart disease, the better chance she has of beating it. Some 80 percent of cardiac and stroke events may be prevented by learning about heart disease and taking steps to improve your heart health, according to the American Heart Association. It’s also important to make healthy lifestyle choices, including eating well, exercising on a regular basis, and not smoking.

Learn more about what you can do to prevent and beat heart disease.

Be Part of the Movement

The American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women movement advocates for more research and swifter action for women’s heart health. Visit Go Red for Women to learn how you can help fight heart disease in women.