Heart disease in women

More women than men die of heart disease every year due to misdiagnosed. Studies are finding that many women cannot identify risk factors for heart disease and are unaware of their personal cardiovascular risk.


Risk factors for women:

-emotional stress affects women’s hearts more than men.

-depression may make it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow recommended treatment for heart disease.

-smoking is a greater risk factor for women than men.

-menopause causes low levels of estrogen which increases the risk of developing disease in the smaller blood vessels.

-pregnancy complications with high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy can affect the mother’s long-term risk of high blood pressure and diabetes.

-inactivity is a major risk of heart disease.

  • High cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity affects both women and men in the development of coronary artery disease. Inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other inflammatory conditions may increase the risk of heart disease in both men and women.

Symptoms of heart disease:

In women chest pain is not always severe.  Common symptoms unrelated to chest pain are neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back pain, or upper abdomen pain. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, pain in one or both arms, nausea or vomiting, lightheadedness or dizziness, unusual fatigue, sweating, and heartburn.


Compared with men, women tend to have symptoms more often when resting, or even when asleep. Emotional stress can play a role in triggering heart attack symptoms in women.


Lifestyle changes to reduce risk of heart disease:

-quit smoking

-eat a healthy diet and avoid saturated or trans fats, added sugars, high amounts of salt.

-maintain a healthy weight and losing a few pounds can lower heart disease risk

-manage stress, as stress can cause the arteries to tighten and increase the risk of heart disease, particularly coronary microvascular disease.

-follow your treatment plan and take the medication, blood thinners, and aspirin as prescribed

-manage your other health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol

-exercise at least 30 minutes per day with a brisk walk, and exercise can be broken into 10-minute intervals, with the same health benefit.

Daily activity tips to improve your heart health:

  • Take the stairs instead of an elevator.
  • Walk or ride your bike to work or to do errands.
  • March in place while watching television.

Helen Trowsdale, RN, BSN, Aging Life Care Manager