Women and Heart Disease Overview

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for all women.

  • One in five women is affected by heart disease.
  • As women age, their risk of heart disease increases.

Women of all ages should be concerned about heart disease. The more you understand how your choices impact your risk, the more you’ll be able to reduce your risk of heart disease now and throughout your life.

Heart attack symptoms

Men and women may differ in their experience of heart attack symptoms. For men, the most common sign of a heart attack is pain or pressure in the chest. Women are more likely than men to have unusual or "atypical" signs of a heart attack. Some of these symptoms may come and go.

Symptoms that every woman should know and pay attention to include:

  • Discomfort or pressure in the chest
  • Pain in one or both arms, upper back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Trouble breathing
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Inability to sleep
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Paleness or clammy skin

Be assertive about your health!

  • Early warning signs of a heart attack can develop hours or days before the actual event. These signs are mild chest discomfort, indigestion or shortness of breath that come and go, unusual fatigue, and sleep disturbances. See your healthcare provider right away to find out the cause of these sensations before a heart attack strikes.
  • Get a second opinion or consult with a cardiologist if you feel your symptoms are not being taken seriously, if they persist, or if you are not satisfied with your care.
  • If you have a diagnosis of heart disease, talk to your doctor about the role of aspirin, beta blockers, and ACE inhibitors in preventing future heart attacks.
  • Participating in cardiac rehabilitation improves recovery after a heart attack, angioplasty, or cardiac surgery. Ask your doctor to refer you to a program in your community.
  • Women often resist getting lifesaving care for heart attack symptoms. As a result, serious delays of 2 hours or more are the norm. Women resist because they:
    • Experience symptoms that do not match what they think a heart attack should feel like
    • Fail to take symptoms seriously
    • “Wait and see” if symptoms go away with self-help remedies including eating or drinking, taking medications, or resting
    • Feel embarrassed if they go to the emergency department and symptoms are caused by something other than a heart attack
    • Defer to the needs of others instead of their own

Every minute counts!

Call 911 when you begin to have any of these symptoms. Do not wait more than five minutes before calling for help. Don't worry about symptoms being a "false alarm." Don't be concerned about bothering others. When you get to the hospital, ask for tests that would diagnose a heart attack. Treatment of heart attacks is most effective when administered as quickly as possible.

Useful link on heart disease in women

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