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Heart Disease and Women

Know the Facts

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. Although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a "man's disease," around the same number of women and men die each year of heart disease in the United States. Despite increases in awareness over the past decade, only fifty-four percent of women recognize that heart disease is their number one killer. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms.


While some women have no symptoms, others experience angina (dull, heavy to sharp chest pain or discomfort), pain in the neck/jaw/throat or pain in the upper abdomen or back. These may occur during rest, begin during physical activity, or be triggered by mental stress.

Women are more likely to describe chest pain that is sharp, burning and more frequently have pain in the neck, jaw, throat, abdomen or back.


Sometimes heart disease or cardiovascular disease may not be recognized until a woman experiences an event, such as a heart attack, congestive heart failure, arrhythmia or stroke.

Common indicators of cardiovascular disease include:

Heart Attack

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Upper back pain
  • Indigestion
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Upper body discomfort
  • Shortness of breath


  • Fluttering feelings in the chest (palpitations)

Heart Failure

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling of the feet/ankles/legs/abdomen


  • Sudden weakness
  • Weakness
  • Paralysis (inability to move)
  • Numbness of the face/arms/legs especially on one side of the body

Other symptoms

  • Confusion.
  • Trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
  • Shortness of breath, dizziness
  • Loss of balance or coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Sudden and severe headache

Risk Factors

High blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease. About half of Americans have at least one of these three risk factors. Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Significant or morbid obesity
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Physical inactivity/sedentary lifestyle
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Depression


To reduce your chances of getting heart disease, it's important to:

  • Know your blood pressure. Having uncontrolled blood pressure can result in heart disease. High blood pressure may often be totally asymptomatic so it's important to have your blood pressure checked regularly
  • Talk to your health care provider about whether you should be tested for diabetes. Diabetes raises your risk of heart disease
  • Quit smoking
  • Discuss checking your cholesterol and triglycerides with your health care provider
  • Make healthy food choices. Being overweight and obese raises your risk of heart disease
  • Limit alcohol intake to one drink a day
  • Lower your stress level and find healthy ways to cope with stress