Heart Disease in Women: Do Women Have a Higher Risk?

Last Updated : 09/15/20185 min read

One out of every four. That’s how many women are likely to die of heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Here are some facts about heart disease in women:

  • It’s the leading cause of death for African American and white women.

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  • Some women don’t have symptoms of heart disease or don’t notice their symptoms.
  • Heart disease in women can have different symptom’s from men’s.

Heart disease in women: does it affect women more than men?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the cause of death in women and men in roughly equal numbers. But the symptoms of heart disease in women can be different than symptoms in men. These signs are sometimes unnoticed or overlooked in women.

Here’s a sobering statistic on women and heart disease: Nearly two-thirds of women (64%) who die suddenly of coronary heart disease notice no symptoms, the CDC reported in 2017.

Heart disease in women: risk factors

There are certain health conditions that only affect women and increase the risk of heart disease in women. According to the Cleveland Clinic, these conditions include:

  • Polycystic ovary disease
  • Endometriosis
  • Pregnancy-related high blood pressure and/or diabetes

Of course, there are some heart disease risk factors that can affect women and men similarly, the Cleveland Clinic adds. The Cleveland Clinic and the National Institutes of Health list some of the many risk factors (this is not all of them):

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Age (being over 55)
  • Being inactive
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of heart disease

The CDC says you might be able to lower your risk of heart disease – whatever your gender.

  • Keep yourself at a healthy weight
  • Stop smoking, if you smoke
  • Exercise*
  • Eat a healthy diet. Generally keep cholesterol, trans fats, saturated fats, and salt to a minimum.
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol.

*The Surgeon General of the United States recommended two and a half hours of moderate exercise per week; that averages out to around twenty minutes per day. Energetic walking or bicycling are examples of moderate exercise. Always talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program or changing your diet.

Heart disease in women: what are the symptoms?

Women may show different symptoms of heart disease than men do. And heart disease in women might show no symptoms at all, the CDC reports.

Here are some symptoms the CDC lists of heart disease in women:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain that might range from dull and heavy to sharp and burning
  • Discomfort in your upper body
  • Pain in the jaw, throat, neck, upper abdomen, or back
  • Swollen ankles, feet, or abdomen
  • Indigestion or heartburn
  • Sudden extreme weakness or fatigue
  • Stroke symptoms, such as numbness on one side of the body, might also signal heart disease, according to the CDC.

There are many possible symptoms of heart disease in women and men. Ask your doctor about your risk level of heart disease and whether you have any symptoms.

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Heart disease in women: what is the treatment?

Depending on your situation, there may be various treatments for heart disease in women or men, according to the National Institutes of Health. Doctors might advise you to make lifestyle changes, such as those listed in this article. Sometimes they may prescribe medications, or in some cases, surgery.

Heart disease in women: menopause and hormone therapy

Some doctors used to recommend hormone therapy after menopause to reduce your risk of heart disease. However, the NIH reports, female hormones estrogen and progestin together were found to increase the risk of heart disease.

  • Estrogen therapy (without progestin) has not been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease in women (a study showed it had no effect on heart disease), but might reduce the risk of stroke.

Heart disease in women: what are some common types of heart disease?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), here are two common types of heart disease:

  • Coronary heart disease: Deposits of plaque (made up of fat, cholesterol, and other substances) build up on the inside walls of your arteries and restrict blood flow. Coronary heart disease can lead to arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) and heart attacks. Women tend to develop this heart disease about 10 years later than men do on average – yet it’s still the main cause of death for American women.
  • Coronary microvascular disease: The very small arteries in the heart are diseased or damaged. Women are more likely than men to have this type of disease. The NIH reports that standard tests for coronary heart disease might not detect coronary microvascular disease, so it might go unnoticed in women.
  • The Cleveland Clinic notes that if you’re a woman with symptoms of heart disease, you might want to go to a specialist in heart disease in women.

If you have heart disease or you’re at risk for it, you might want to make sure you have the type of Medicare plan option that may work for your situation. I’d be happy to go over the various Medicare plan options available in your area with you.

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