How Heart Disease Affects Women and How to Prevent Heart Problems

Heart disease is the top killer of women in the United States. According to the National Women’s Health Information Center, one out of every four deaths in women is caused by heart disease and more women die of heart disease than of lung cancer, breast cancer, stroke and COPD combined. More women than men die of heart attacks.

Heart Disease in Women vs. Men

There are differences in how heart disease affects women compared to men. Plaque in a woman’s arteries is more evenly distributed and less likely to be distributed in clumps. This can lead to heart studies sometimes being interpreted as normal when disease exists. The symptoms of heart disease in women are often ignored or overlooked by women. The most common sign of a heart attack is crushing pain in the center of the chest, but not all women experience this type of pain. Women frequently describe the pain as pressure, ache or tightness. They may experience shortness of breath, or neck pain, back pain or jaw pain. Many women never even feel chest pain and don’t take other symptoms seriously. Worst of all, women tend to wait longer than men to seek emergency treatment for a heart attack.

Types of Heart Disease in Women

There are several different types of heart disease that affect women. The most common type is coronary artery disease. In this disease, arteries become narrow and hard. When the heart doesn’t get sufficient blood because of narrowing and hardening of the arteries, women may experience angina, or chest pain. Angina is an indication that a heart attack may occur in the near future. When an artery is completely blocked, it may lead to a heart attack. Other examples of heart disease are arrhythmias and heart failure.

Prevention of Heart Problems in Women

Many heart problems in women are preventable. Certain lifestyle changes can help to decrease the likelihood of a heart attack or other forms of heart disease. One of the most common causes of heart disease is untreated high blood pressure, which can lead to hardening of the arteries. Women who smoke should make a commitment to quitting, while women who are overweight need to commit to working toward a healthier weight. Healthy diet choices include plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. Salt and alcohol intake should be limited. Avoid a sedentary lifestyle; some form of exercise should be included daily if possible. A large percentage of heart attacks and strokes are preventable just from making healthy lifestyle choices.


The National Women’s Health Information Center, “Heart Disease”, accessed May 24, 2010

Women’s Heart Foundation, “Women and Heart Disease Facts”, accessed May 24, 2010

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