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The Truth About Women's Heart Disease

Heart disease is often seen as a problem for men. However, nearly 42 million American women live with heart disease, and more women than men die of heart disease each year. In fact, heart disease kills about 1 American woman each minute.

Women and Heart Disease: More Common Than You Think

  • Heart disease causes more than one-third of deaths in American women over 20 years of age.
  • Heart attacks cause 5 times more deaths in women each year than breast cancer.
  • More women die of heart disease than the 4 next highest causes of death combined, including all forms of cancer.

Men vs. Women: Risk Factors

Many of the major risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity, are the same for men and women. But other factors can play a bigger role in the development of heart disease in women than they do for men.

Mental stress, depression, metabolic syndrome and smoking have a more significant impact on women's risk for heart disease than men's.

Also, low levels of estrogen after menopause add to a woman's chance of getting heart disease.

Symptoms in Women

Women have smaller hearts and coronary arteries, so their symptoms tend to be different than those reported by men. Historically, studies did not include women so much of our knowledge about heart disease comes from studying men. This means symptoms in men are more well-known and tend to me be missed when testing women.

While chest pain is the most common symptom in men and women, women are more likely to have these warning signs:

  • Complaints of sore throat or indigestion
  • Weakness, shortness of breath and fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Pain or discomfort in the abdomen or upper body (arms, neck, shoulder, upper back stomach or jaw)
  • Sleep problems

Heart Disease is Preventable

Both men and women should take the risk of heart disease seriously and work towards lowering their risk. These steps can help:

  • Have your blood pressure checked at least every 2 years
  • Have your cholesterol checked every 5 years starting at age 35
  • Start testing your cholesterol at age 20 if you smoke, are obese, have diabetes or high blood pressure or have a family history of heart disease
  • Limit stress
  • Don't smoke
  • Drink alcoholic beverages in moderation
  • Choose healthy foods
  • Work out regularly and maintain a healthy weight

Sources: Women Heart, The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, American Heart Association; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Mayo Clinic; and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Learn More About:

Energy Drinks and Your Heart
The Minority Report on Heart Health
Family Medical History: Improve Your Heart Health with Knowledge

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