Women’s Heart Health, Part 1 – Heart Disease Risks, Prevention & Symptoms

American Heart Month

Scientific studies reflect an alarming trend of increased numbers of women experiencing heart health issues, with heart disease the most common cause of death in U.S. women. In the U.S., almost 1 in 4 women, about 25%, dies as a direct result of heart disease.

Despite increase in heart awareness still only about half of women, or 56%, recognize heart disease as their number 1 killer.

February is National Heart Awareness Month and your local Capital Women’s Care health team wants to share with you valuable information to help you recognize risk factors of heart disease; what preventative practices you can initiate within your own personal health plan to optimize your heart function and health; and women-specific heart attack symptoms to be vigilant for.

With appropriate information, education and care, heart disease in women can be treated, prevented and even ended.

How Heart Disease Affects Women

Since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease and the gap between men and women’s survival continues to widen.

Some sobering statistics about women and heart disease:

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, killing 299,578 women in 2017—or about 1 in every 5 female deaths.
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for African American and white women in the United States. Among American Indian and Alaska Native women, heart disease and cancer cause roughly the same number of deaths each year. For Hispanic and Asian or Pacific Islander women, heart disease is second only to cancer as a cause of death.
  • About 1 in 16 women age 20 and older, or 6.2% have diagnosed coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease.
  • Cardiovascular disease is the number 1 killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year, which is about 1 woman dying every minute. 
  • 90% of women have 1 or more risk factors for developing heart disease.
  • While 1 in 31 U.S. women dies from breast cancer each year, 1 in 3 dies of heart disease.

Heart Disease Risk Factors

Many things can put you at risk for heart disease, some of which may be controlled.

Several medical conditions and lifestyle choices greatly affect heart health and function as well as increase the risk for heart disease, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • High LDL (low-density lipoprotein or “bad”) cholesterol
  • and smoking are the 3 key risk factors for heart disease.

About half of all people in the U.S. (47%) have at least 1 of these 3 risk factors.

Other risk factors of heart disease include:

  • diabetes
  • being overweight or obese
  • eating an unhealthy diet
  • having little or no physical activity
  • and drinking too much alcohol.

Reducing Women’s Heart Disease Risk

To lower your chances of getting heart disease, it’s important to:

  • know your blood pressure. Having uncontrolled blood pressure can lead to heart disease. High blood pressure has no symptoms, so it’s important to have blood pressure checked regularly. Learn more about high blood pressure.
  • talk to your doctor or health care team about whether you should be tested for diabetes. Having uncontrolled diabetes raises risk of heart disease. Learn more about diabetes.
  • quit smoking. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, learn ways to quit.
  • discuss checking your blood cholesterol and triglycerides with your doctor. Learn more about cholesterol.
  • make healthy food choices. Having overweight or obesity raises heart disease risk. Learn more about overweight and obesity.
  • limit alcohol intake. Allow yourself to 1 alcoholic drink per day. Learn more about alcohol.
  • manage and control stress levels. Find healthy ways to cope with stress through meditation, physical exercise and doing things you love to do. Learn more about coping with stress.

Heart-Healthy Lifestyle Changes

Give yourself a healthier heart with these important practices:

Heart Symptoms that Women Must Know

Women are more likely to have nontraditional symptoms of heart attack than men and often brush aside symptoms as lingering fatigue or stress.

Some women have absolutely no symptoms which indicate heart attack or disease.

Heart disease doesn’t affect all women alike. Furthermore, the warning signs for women aren’t the same as those occurring in men. Women are more likely than men to have a different symptom of heart attack than chest pain or discomfort.

Other heart attack or disease symptoms occurring more often in women include:

  • angina (dull and heavy or sharp chest pain or discomfort)
  • pain in the neck, jaw or throat
  • pain in the upper abdomen or back
  • indigestion
  • heartburn
  • nausea or vomiting
  • extreme tiredness
  • having difficulty breathing or experiencing shortness of breath

Women are more likely than men to have heart attacks that do not show obvious symptoms. These are called silent heart attacks.

Sometimes heart disease may be “silent” and not diagnosed until you experience other symptoms or emergencies, including:

  • Heart attack: Chest pain or discomfort, upper back or neck pain, indigestion, heartburn, nausea or vomiting, extreme fatigue, upper body discomfort, dizziness, and shortness of breath
  • Arrhythmia: chest palpitations
  • Heart failure: Shortness of breath, fatigue, or swelling of the feet, ankles, legs, abdomen or neck veins

If you experience any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Our next blog post, Women’s Heart Health Part 2, will continue important discussion of heart problems and issues unique to women and relate available treatment options.

Your Capital Women’s Care team is here for you and your family to help you optimize your heart function and health. We offer comprehensive healthcare services via our expert, knowledgeable family of professionals who are fully committed to optimizing you and your family’s quality and longevity of life.


Heart attack symptoms | womenshealth.gov
Heart disease and women | womenshealth.gov
hds-heart-disease-and-women-1.jpg (475×403) (womenshealth.gov)

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The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.


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