Women and Heart Disease

Hard Facts

  • Women are couseled less about nutrition, exercise and weight control than men.
  • More women than men die yearly from cardiovascular disease, yet 25 percent fewer women than men have operations or procedures.
  • 63 percent of women who die from cardiovascular disease had no previous symptoms.
  • Many women and doctors do not recognize early signs of a heart attack.
  • Smoking by women causes 150 percent more deaths from heart disease than lung cancer.
  • Women who smoke are two to six times more likely to suffer a heart attack.
  • Use of birth control pills in smokers compounds cardiac risk.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack

  • Chest pain
  • Pain in left arm
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling breathless
  • Weakness/dizziness
  • Flu-like symptoms/loss of appetite
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Feeling of anxiety
  • Back pain
  • Irregular heartbeat

Less Common Warning Signs
Women and men may share similar common warning signs, such as the squeezing feeling or pain in the center of their chest, however, women show some of the less common warning signs.

Women more often experience these symptoms:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Back pain
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Indigestion

Men more often experience these symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Rest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness

Use of Oral Contraceptives
If you're a female over age 35 and are considering use of oral contraceptives or hormones, talk with your health care practitioner about:

  • Your personal and family medical history.
  • Your risk factors for stroke, heart disease and cancer.
  • The safety and effectiveness of the various birth control methods and hormone replacement therapy. Smoking combined with the use of oral contraceptives greatly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Heart Health Guidelines for Women
More aggressive control of risk factors is needed:

  • Stop smoking.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes for most days of the week. If you have trouble getting started, think about joining a Cardiac Rehabilitation Program.
  • Follow a heart healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Control blood pressure, lipids and diabetes. Poor control puts women at a higher risk for Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). A combination of diet, exercise and medication may be necessary for optimal control.
  • Optimize psychosocial health.

#1 Killer Among Women

Myth: Heart attacks only happen to men.

Reality: Heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases kill more women than the next four causes of death combined.

  • One in three women have some form of heart and blood vessel disease.
  • Cardiovascular disease and stroke kill nearly twice as many women as all forms of cancer.
  • One in 30 women's deaths are from breast cancer while one in every 2.8 women's deaths are due to cardiovascular disease.
  • The death rate for stroke is higher for women than for men and is significantly higher for African-American women than for Caucasian women. 

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