Heart Disease in Women

Heart disease is the number 1 killer of American women.  Those affected are not just “old” ladies.  Many are young women in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.  This week (Feb 1-7) is Women’s Heart Week, and this Friday is “Wear Red Day” to bring about greater awareness regarding heart disease and to get the word out about risk factors and prevention strategies.  The Wear Red Day site has some helpful information and statistics.  Approximately one woman dies every 80 seconds from cardiovascular disease.  1 in 5 female deaths are from heart disease while only 1 in 30 deaths are from breast cancer. This is an important topic, ladies!

Women can have different symptoms then men

We have all heard about people having a heart attack (or myocardial infarction).  The classic symptom for men is crushing chest pain, often described as an elephant sitting on your chest.  Other symptoms can include sweating and pain down the left arm.  In the movies the person grabs their chest and immediately collapses, dying soon after.  Women, however, often experience milder and more confusing signs and symptoms of a heart attack.  Common symptoms for a woman having a heart attack are:

  • Pain in the neck, jaw, shoulder, left or right arm, upper back, abdomen or chest.
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Anxiety

Seek medical help right away

Because the symptoms of heart attack are often different for women, they may not recognize something is seriously wrong.  Many women don’t want to go to the ER for something that is “probably nothing,” so they go home and lay down instead.  Read about one woman’s story (here) who was having a heart attack and finally decided to go to the ER.

Waiting to seek treatment can be devastating to your chances of survival.  The sooner a person gets medical help, the greater the chances are for survival and for saving your heart from permanent damage.  The odds of surviving a heart attack are increased by 50% if you get medical treatment within one hour and 23% if you get medical treatment within three hours.

Different types of heart disease

While we have focused on hearts attacks, there are many different types of heart disease.  Some people are born with a congenital heart defect.  Depending on the severity, they may not be aware of it until they are older.  Other problems with the heart can be irregular heart rhythms, weak heart muscles, heart infections, and valve problems.


Young healthy people can have heart attacks even if they do everything right. However certain lifestyle choices can increase your risk.


Some risk factor for having a heart attack are:

  • Smoking (including marijuana) and second hand smoke.
  • Being overweight
  • Sedentary life style
  • Diet high in saturated fats

Things may help lower your risk:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Maintain a healthy weight and BMI
  • Get plenty of exercise (at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity at least 5-6 days each week).
  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods

Heart disease and pregnancy

Heart disease poses a special risk for pregnant women.  During pregnancy a woman’s blood volume almost doubles to sustain the baby growing within her.  That high blood volume increases the workload of her heart.  For a woman with a heart problem, it is very important that she work with her doctor to make a pregnancy plan and monitor her heart and blood pressure closely.

Be sure to wear red this Friday!

It is crazy that 1 in 4 women die from cardiovascular disease – that’s a statistic that doesn’t need to happen.  Remember to wear red this Friday and help spread the word. Know the symptoms and make a plan today to eat healthy and get plenty of physical activity to reduce your own risk of heart disease and heart attack.