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Heart Disease in Women


You’ve probably heard that heart disease is the number one killer in the United States. What you may not know is that heart disease in women is just as common as it is in men. According to the American Heart Association, coronary heart disease, a disorder of the blood vessels in the heart, is the leading cause of death for women. Nearly twice as many women will die of heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases as from all forms of cancer, including breast cancer.

Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

Often times a heart attack is the first sign of heart disease. Women often mistake the warning signs of heart attack with common, less life-threatening ailments like acid reflux, the flu or normal changes with age. Heart attack symptoms in women can include but are not limited to:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort
  • Cold sweats, nausea or lightheadedness

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms or suspect a heart attack, dial 9-1-1 immediately. Remember that any of these signs should not be taken lightly. For more information visit gotchestpain.org.

Risk Factors for Heart Disease in Women

Common risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity. Factors that pertain especially to women include:

  • After menopause, women have lower levels of estrogen which increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the smaller blood vessels.
  • Extreme mental stress and depression affect women's hearts more than men.
  • While smoking is a risk factor for men and women, it poses the greatest risk to women.
  • The combination of fat around your stomach, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides (a type of fat) is known as metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome increases you risk of heart disease as well as diabetes and stroke.

Preventative Factors to Keep in Mind

  • Don't smoke. More than half of the heart attacks in women under 50 are related to smoking. By quitting, you can lower your risk of heart attack by one-third within two years.
  • Keep your blood pressure under control. If you cannot control your blood pressure through diet and exercise, your doctor may recommend a prescription medication.
  • Monitor your cholesterol. If you aren't sure of your numbers, ask your doctor to check. Diet plays an integral role in lowering high cholesterol levels. You may need medication in addition to diet and exercise.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Exercise and a healthy low-fat diet will help you lose and maintain weight. Try to take a brisk walk, swim, jog or ride your bike at least 30 to 60 minutes, four to six times a week.
  • Know your family history. Having a father or brother with heart disease before age 55, or a mother or sister with heart disease before age 65, are factors that contribute to heart disease in women.

Take Charge of Your Heart Health
Make an appointment with your doctor today if you are concerned about your risk for heart disease. If you do not have a doctor, please call Mercy Gilbert at 480.728.5414, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and we'd be happy to help you find a professional who meets your needs.