Heart disease is the number one killer of women over the age of 25 in the United States irrespective of race or ethnicity. Each year, six times as many women die of cardiovascular disease than of breast cancer. The condition affects approximately 10 percent of women between the ages of 45 and 64, and one in four women over 65 years of age - about 8 million women total.
Heart attack symptoms for women may include:
- Chest pain or indigestion-like discomfort that:
- Is unrelieved by rest or a change in position
- Moves to shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back
- Produces pressure or a squeezing sensation that is either constant or intermittent
- Unexplained shortness of breath - with or without chest discomfort
- Heart palpitations or abnormally weak and/or rapid pulse
- Lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting or a sick stomach
- Gray facial color
Additional heart attack symptoms common in women:
- Chest Pain
- Pressure, burning, tightness or aching
- Shortness of breath
- Shoulder blade pain
- Change in migraine pattern, migraine with aura
If you (or another woman) experiences these heart attack warning signs, don't wait. Get help fast. Seek medical attention immediately by calling your doctor or dial 9-1-1.
Risk Factors & Prevention
Heart Screenings for Women
When it comes to the heart, research indicates that women must be cared for differently than men. Designed just for women, we offer comprehensive heart evaluations, focusing on early detection and prevention to improve women’s lifelong health and well-being.
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Risk Factors for Heart Disease or Heart Attack
These are factors that increase the risk of heart disease or attack. Certain risk factors you cannot change, such as heredity, ethnicity and age. However, many risk factors can be changed to help lower the overall risk of coronary artery disease.
If your diet is high in saturated fat or cholesterol (a waxy, fatlike substance) your blood cholesterol increases. Overall cholesterol risk is best determined by looking at both LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and HDL (“good” cholesterol). Total cholesterol should be less than 200, LDL less than 130 and HDL greater than 45. Studies show that a higher percentage of women than men have a total cholesterol greater than 200 beginning at age 50. A 10 percent decrease in total cholesterol may result in a 30 percent decrease in cardiovascular disease.
Ways to improve your blood cholesterol and decrease your risk:
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
- Limit animal and saturated fat intake
- Avoid foods high in cholesterol
- Eat foods high in fiber
- Get regular aerobic exercise.
Numerous studies have shown that cigarette smoking increases the risk of coronary artery disease. It robs your heart of oxygen, damages your blood vessels, increases your blood pressure as well as your “bad” cholesterol, and can increase the likelihood of blood clots. According to the World Health Organization, one year after quitting, the risk of coronary artery disease decreases by 50 percent. Within 15 years, the risk of dying from heart disease is the same as a non-smoker.
Some helpful hints: Take a smoking cessation class
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure (or hypertension) puts strain on your heart by increasing its workload. It also injures the lining of the arteries. People that are less active and less fit have a 30–50 percent greater risk of developing high blood pressure. There are two pressures measured when your blood pressure is taken. The top number represents the pressure in your arteries when your heart squeezes blood out to the body. The bottom number represents the pressure that is in your arteries when your heart is at rest. A pressure of less than 120/80 is recommended. Pressures above 120/80 increase your risk for prehypertension and cardiovascular disease, and you may need medical attention.
For a healthy blood pressure:
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
- Get regular, moderate physical activity.
- Eat foods low in fat, high in fiber, and with adequate calcium and potassium.
- Limit alcohol intake as it can increase blood pressure.
- STOP SMOKING
- Keep stress moderate, get adequate sleep (7–8 hours a night) and take relaxation breaks.
Lack of Exercise
Physical activity is protective to your heart and circulation. Regular aerobic (improving the body’s use of oxygen) activity improves the way the body uses nutrients, raises “good” cholesterol levels, lowers blood pressure, and helps control or prevent excess weight. Regular exercise also improves the way blood sugar and insulin act in the body and strengthens the heart muscle.
Maintain a regular exercise routine:
- Check with a health care professional before starting an exercise program.
- Aerobic activity—like walking, hiking, swimming or riding a bike—should be done for 30 minutes or more, most days of the week.
- Begin at a slow, steady pace to warm up and cool down the same way.
A fasting blood glucose (sugar) level of 100 or more may indicate a glucose tolerance problem, increasing your risk of diabetes. With diabetics, the risk of coronary artery disease is three to five times greater than in a non-diabetic.
Ways to lessen the effect diabetes has on heart disease:
- If you are diabetic, monitor and maintain your blood sugar within a normal range. Monitor your carbohydrate intake and manage your diet accordingly. Take medication as directed and avoid wide swings in your blood sugar.
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
- Regular, aerobic exercise 30 minutes or more, most days of the week
Being overweight puts extra demands on your circulation, making the heart work harder. Excess body fat increases the risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Achieving a Body Mass Index (BMI) of less than 25.0 is desired. A BMI of 25.0 or greater is overweight and a BMI greater than 30.0 is obese.
Ways to achieve and maintain a healthy weight:
- Eat healthy portions of low fat foods, avoiding late night snacks
- Be active. Exercise at least 30 minutes most days of the week.
- Calculate Your BMI
Too much stress can strain the heart by making it pump harder and beat faster. Learning to listen to your body, identifying when tension “takes over” and stepping back to ease that stress can bring the numbers back to the normal range and allow you to be back in control.
There are actions that can help:
- Learn to relax. Favorite kinds of exercise can be a perfect way to release tension.
- Try deep, slow breathing when you feel the tension building.
- Keep your sense of humor. Being able to laugh at the world around you and at yourself is a wonderful and healthy ability.
Before menopause, women have a lower incidence of coronary events than men. After menopause, risks are similar in both groups. It was thought that post-menopausal hormone replacement therapy (HRT) would produce a reduced risk of coronary disease. However, data from a major study showed an early increase in risk in women with pre-existing coronary disease. It currently remains unclear if HRT protects the heart. You should discuss this with your physician.
A history of heart disease in your father or brother aged 55 or younger or in your mother or sister aged 65 or younger increases your risk of developing coronary disease 1.3 to 1.6 times.
The risk of coronary disease increases with age. If you have a parent, brother or sister who has been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease before age 55, you are at greater risk for developing coronary artery disease at an earlier age. From age 35–54 the prevalence of cardiovascular disease is slightly greater in men, but from age 65 on, men and women are equally affected. Surveys show that most women are more afraid of breast cancer than of heart disease even though 1 in 30 deaths are from breast cancer and 1 in 2.4 deaths for women are from cardiac disease.
The prevalence of cardiovascular disease in adults is highest in non-Hispanic African Americans, affecting 40.5 percent of men and 39.6 percent of women. Thirty percent of non-Hispanic white men have cardiovascular disease as do 23.8 percent of non-Hispanic white women. The prevalence is lowest in Hispanic men, 28.8 percent, and 26.6 percent of Hispanic women. There is not much that can be done to change your family, age and ethnic risk factors. However, there are other factors that are within your power to change.