Women and Heart Disease
Women are different than men!
Did you know that heart disease is the NUMBER ONE killer of women in the US? It outnumbers deaths from other causes including lung disease, lung cancer, and breast cancer combined together.
- Women are often more likely to present with angina (chest pain) as opposed to heart attack in the men (Snow, et.al 2008).
- Women are often about 10 years older than the men when they 1st present with heart disease (Snow, et.al 2008)
- Women typically undergo fewer interventions then men to treat heart disease.
- Women often perceive breast cancer as their greatest risk of death but this only accounts for 1 out of 29 deaths (Schroetter and Peck, 2008).
- Women are generally more poorly educated about the risk factors for heart disease.
- Currently, 70% of American women may have at least one major risk factor for heart disease (Schroetter and Peck, 2008).
- Heart disease was the leading cause of death in women in 2007(CDC.gov).
- Heart disease symptoms in women can differ dramatically from those found in men, or can be similar.
Quotes from real women:
"I felt extra tired even though my life hadn't changed and more sleep didn't help."
"I was feeling nauseous for about a week and nothing relieved it. A few days before my heart attack, I got a pain between my shoulder blades that wouldn't go away no matter what I did."
"I was more short of breath with things that never bothered me before, like vacuuming."
"My dentist recommended I see a cardiologist for my arm and wrist pain. I had a stress test which didn't turn out too good and then I had an angiogram which was abnormal. Two stents were placed and my pain is gone."
Click on this link for more information about cardiac testing, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol:
What is a heart attack?
A heart attack happens when one of the coronary arteries gets completely blocked by plaque and a blood clot. The heart muscle cannot get oxygen and blood and it starts to die (also called ischemia). To put it another way, think what happens if you lay on your arm and it "falls asleep". It hurts after awhile and you have to move your arm to get the blood flow back. The same thing happens to your heart, it hurts because it's not getting blood flow. This causes you to feel poorly.
Treatment involves opening the artery back up. This is done by coronary angiography with stent placement. If you are not close enough to a hospital that does this procedure, special medication called fibrinolytics can be given to help dissolve the clot.
After a heart attack, you will be placed on medications to try to help prevent one from happening again. You will be advised to quit smoking if you do so, exercise, and eat a low fat, low sodium diet.
HEART ATTACK SYMPTOMS:
On television or in the movies, the man always clutches his chest, gasps, and falls to the ground unmoving. It looks very dramatic. In reality, it may very well be a women having the heart attack and it's not always that dramatic.
The "typical" heart attack symptoms of chest pain in the middle, jaw pain, and left arm pain are those mainly found in men. Women can also get these symptoms but we more commonly feel symptoms of nausea, shortness of breath, chest pressure, middle or upper back pain and pressure, lightheadedness, fatigue, or even passing out.
Whatever your symptoms are, if they persist or you are concerned, see your doctor or go to the emergency room. Women tend to put things off and not take care of themselves as we are always so busy helping others. You only have one heart, take care of it! Don't ever feel embarrassed or apologetic for seeking help if you have symptoms.
For access to additional patient education materials relating to cardiovascular disease, heart anatomy and treatment please click here for our Patient Education Page.
American Heart Association. (2012). Go Red for Women: about Heart Disease and Stroke. Retrieved from
High Blood Pressure (hypertension). (2012, January 24). Retrieved from
Women and Heart Disease Fact Sheet. (2012, January 17). Retrieved from
Depression and heart disease in women. (2012). Harvard Medical
School Mental Health Newsletter, pp. 1-3.
Schroetter, S. A., & Peck, S. D. (2008). Women's Risk of Heart Disease:
Promoting awareness and prevention- a primary care approach.
Medsurg Nursing, 17(2), 107-112.
Thanavaro, J. L., Thanavaro, S., & Delicath, T. (2010). Coronary heart
disease knowledge tool for women. Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, 22, 62-69.