Women and Heart Disease

Heart (cardiovascular) disease is the leading cause of death in women older than 40. The death rate from heart disease increases as women age, especially after they reach menopause. It has claimed the lives of more women than men since 1984, and is responsible for the deaths of more women than breast and lung cancers combined. Each year, one of every four women in the United States will die from heart disease, with African-American women having a higher death rate than Caucasian women.

Types of Heart Disease

Heart disease is any disease that affects the heart and blood-vessel system. Types of heart diseases include heart attack; stroke; coronary heart disease; high blood pressure; and angina (chest pain).

Symptoms of Heart Attack in Women

Although both men and women tend to experience angina when having heart attacks, about one-third of women have no chest pain at all. Because women tend to have blockages in the smaller arteries that supply blood to their heart, they typically have symptoms that include the following:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness/lightheadedness

In addition to the chest, a woman may have angina in her shoulders, back, arms, jaw, throat and neck.

Coronary artery disease, which leads to heart attacks, is the leading cause of death for Americans, both female and male.

Reducing the Risk of Heart Disease in Women

A woman who has a family history of heart disease is at greater risk of getting it herself. However, making the following lifestyle changes can help reduce a woman's risk for developing heart disease:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating a heart-healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Managing weight
  • Avoiding stress
  • Regulating diabetes
  • Monitoring blood pressure
  • Reducing triglyceride levels
  • Reducing/eliminating alcohol consumption

Hormone replacement therapy is no longer recommended for postmenopausal women, as it puts women at a greater risk for heart disease.

Additional Resources