Heart Disease in Women

Heart disease prevention and treatment for women at Christian HospitalHeart disease kills six times as many women each year as breast and lung cancers combined. 

Heart attacks occur when adequate blood supply to the heart is cut, resulting in damage to heart tissue. A blood clot in a coronary artery can cut blood supply to part of the heart, or the blood supply could already have been cut due to narrowed coronary arteries resulting from coronary artery disease.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in all Americans, but women suffer from heart disease more often than men, making heart disease -- not cancer -- the leading cause of death in U.S. women. Every year, more than half a million U.S. women die of heart disease and stroke -- that's approximately one death every minute.

Facts About Heart Disease and Women

  • Heart disease is the #1 killer of American women
  • 500,000 women die each year from heart disease, outnumbering the number of men dying from heart disease
  • One in two women will die of heart disease or stroke, as compared to one in 30 from breast cancer
  • Forty-two percent of women -- as compared with 24 percent of men -- will die within one year after having a heart attack
  • For women younger than 45, the biggest preventable risk factor for cardiovascular disease is smoking
  • Nearly 50 percent of women older than 45 have high blood pressure and an elevated total cholesterol level, both risk factors for heart disease

Other Heart Conditions

  • Angina -- Caused by plaque blockage; the heart doesn't get enough blood and oxygen, resulting in chest pain and discomfort
  • Hypertension/High Blood Pressure -- Damages arteries, and is often a result of being overweight or having too much salt in the diet
  • Congestive Heart Failure -- A condition where the heart is unable to pump enough blood to supply the body's needs; excess fluid leaks into the lungs, resulting in breathing difficulties, fatigue and weakness

    Women at risk for heart disease include those who:

    • Have a family history of heart disease
    • Have high cholesterol
    • Have high blood pressure
    • Have diabetes
    • Are overweight or obese
    • Smoke
    • Have chronic stress
    • Have estrogen deficiency or have had the ovaries removed
    • Lead a sedentary lifestyle

    Signs & Symptoms

    Heart disease in women sometimes is not diagnosed due to the variety of symptoms that women can experience. As a result, when symptoms occur -- symptoms that often differ greatly from those of men -- many women overlook them and delay seeking care. When experiencing symptoms, seek medical attention within one hour of onset when drugs and other treatments can be most effective.

    Classic symptoms of a heart attack include: Symptoms more likely to occur in women include:
    • Chest discomfort
    • Pain that spreads to shoulders, neck or arm
    • Nausea, fatigue and shortness of breath
    • Sweating
    • Indigestion or gas-like pain or pressure
    • Dizziness
    • Unexplained weakness and fatigue
    • Discomfort between the shoulder blades
    • Sense of impending doom


    Take Charge of Your Health

    If you have symptoms -- even if they are vague and you think they might not be serious -- see a physician. Provide your doctor with as much information as you can about your health status, and make sure you understand all treatment decisions and procedures. 

    • Be assertive -- Don't be afraid to ask questions. One of the greatest challenges women face is overcoming the perception that mostly men are at risk of heart disease; when talking with your physician, make sure your questions are answered and you concerns are heard
    • Be open and honest -- Discuss your symptoms, and provide your personal and family health history; an open dialogue with your doctor can help determine what tests and treatments are right for you
    • Get a second opinion -- See a different doctor if you are not satisfied with your care or if you feel your symptoms are not being given serious attention; ask to be referred to a cardiologist if your symptoms still do not improve

    Nine Questions to Ask Your Doctor

    1. What are my risk factors for heart disease, and what can I do to lower my risk -- such as healthy eating, exercise, weight and stress management?
    2. What are the warning signs or symptoms of heart disease or a heart attack?
    3. What is my blood pressure, cholesterol and body-mass index, and are those numbers considered healthy?
    4. What should I know about the effects of menopause and estrogen replacement therapy on my health?
    5. Which methods of smoking cessation would work best for me?
    6. Are my risk factors for heart disease the same or different for stroke, and what are the symptoms of stroke?
    7. What is the latest on low-dose aspirin for heart attack prevention and treatment?
    8. How much physical activity do I need to help protect my heart?
    9. If I experience chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack, what should I do first?