The Real Facts About Women’s Heart Health

Recognize the less common symptoms of heart disease and learn four steps women can take to maintain a healthy heart.

Did you know that women have the same risk for developing heart disease as men? Even still, many people don’t understand the facts about heart disease in women. It’s time to change that perception.

 According to the American Heart Association:

  • Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. for women.
  • The average age for females who experience a heart attack is 72, but heart disease can affect women of all ages. Risk factors, such as taking contraceptives and smoking, increase the likelihood of developing the condition.
  • Sixty-four percent of women who die from coronary heart disease experienced no previous symptoms. 

Risk Factors and Symptoms

Many risk factors for heart disease, such as family history, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and obesity, are the same for both sexes. However, some risk factors are unique to women. One study found that plaque in the arteries forms differently in some women than it does in men, making it harder to identify. Women’s heart disease risk may also increase after menopause due to a dip in estrogen levels, as estrogen helps keep arteries relaxed.

Many women experience heart disease symptoms that are less recognizable. Some of these heart attack symptoms in women include:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Pain in the jaw, shoulder or arm
  • Shortness of breath

If you or a loved one experience any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. Even if it isn’t a heart attack, it’s better to be mistaken than to delay treatment.

Help Your Heart

To minimize your risk of heart disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following:

1) Visit your healthcare provider regularly to check your blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides. Ask for any recommended heart and vascular screenings.

2) Ask your healthcare provider if you should be tested for diabetes. Uncontrolled diabetes can increase your risk of heart disease.

3) Exercise regularly. Walking 30 minutes a day can reduce your risk of heart attack.

4) If you smoke, quit. Smoking cessation can decrease your risk of coronary heart disease by 50 percent.

Visit wellness.altru.org/prevention to sign up for your heart and vascular screenings. These screenings are available for a $75 flat fee and are not covered by insurance.