Cardiovascular disease in women—Symptoms and Risk Factors

Although heart disease is generally thought of as a men’s health issue, more women than men die of heart disease each year, making it the leading cause of death in women in the U.S. The symptoms of a heart attack in women can present themselves in different ways, and many women may not recognize the signs.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack in women?

  • Pressure or discomfort in the neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back, and abdomen
  • Shortness of breath
  • Right arm pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Unusual fatigue

In some cases, these symptoms can be much subtler than the obvious crushing pain in the chest that men often feel. Unfortunately, many women tend to minimize their symptoms, which can lead to heart damage.

Heart disease risk factors in women

  • Diabetes
  • Dyslipidemia
  • Women over the age of 60
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Smoking
  • Lack of physical activity

How women can reduce their risk

  • Start a regular exercise plan: At least 30 minutes per day, five days per week
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a heart healthy diet
  • Quit smoking

If a heart attack does occur, what are the treatment options?

  • Aspirin: 911 operator may instruct you or the person having a heart attack to take aspirin or EMS personnel may give you an aspirin immediately
  • Other medications: thrombolytics, antiplatelet agents, blood thinners
  • Surgery: coronary angioplasty and stenting, coronary artery bypass