Skip to page content.
Site Map
Bookmark and Share

Women & Heart Disease

In the United States, 1 in 3 women die from heart disease. Coronary heart disease (CHD), the most common type of heart disease, is the #1 killer of both men and women in the United States.

Coronary heart disease occurs when plaque builds up on the inner walls of coronary arteries. These arteries carry oxygen-rich blood to the heart. When plaque builds up in the arteries, the condition is called atherosclerosis.

Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood. Over time, plaque can harden or rupture.

Hardened plaque narrows the coronary arteries and reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. This can cause chest pain or discomfort called angina. If the plaque ruptures, a blood clot can partially or completely block blood flow through a coronary artery. This is the most common cause of a heart attack. Over time, ruptured plaque also hardens and narrows the coronary arteries.

In addition to angina and heart attack, coronary heart disease can cause other serious heart problems. The disease may lead to heart failure, irregular heartbeats called arrhythmias and sudden cardiac arrest.

Heart attack symptoms are often different for women than they are for men. A woman may feel fullness in the chest or a squeezing sensation. She may experience pain in the jaw area, shortness of breath or discomfort in the stomach area. It will be very uncomfortable, and if a woman experiences any of these symptoms, 911 should be called immediately.

Women also tend to develop coronary heart disease about 10 years later than men. For women, age becomes a risk factor at 55. After menopause, women are more vulnerable to developing heart disease, in part because their body's production of estrogen drops. Women who have gone through early menopause, either naturally or because they have had a hysterectomy, are twice as likely to develop heart disease as women of the same age who have not yet gone through menopause.

Family history of heart disease is a risk that cannot be controlled. Preeclampsia during pregnancy is another risk factor that you cannot control, but if you had the condition, you should take extra care to try and control other heart disease risk factors.

These risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes and prediabetes
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Being physically inactive
  • Unhealthy diet
  • If you have heart disease, you should not take menopausal hormone therapy.

A crucial step in determining your risk is to see your doctor for a thorough checkup. Your doctor can be an important partner in helping you set and reach goals for heart health. If you are being treated for heart disease or heart disease risk factors, ask your doctor to review your treatment plan with you. Always be open and honest with your doctor, discussing any issues fully and honestly can help your doctor determine your chances of developing heart disease.

Women have tremendous power to prevent heart disease. By learning your own personal risk factors and by making healthy lifestyle changes such as improving your diet, or increasing your physical activity, you can greatly reduce your risk of developing heart-related problems. Even if you have heart disease, you can take steps to lessen its severity.

Your risk for heart disease can increase significantly depending on how many risk factors you have. So take control of your heart health today. Taking care of your heart will improve your overall health and will allow you to enjoy a better quality of life.