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Women and heart disease: Understanding subtle symptoms, risk factors and how to protect yourself
Women's Health

Women and heart disease: Understanding subtle symptoms, risk factors and how to protect yourself

By Ifeoma Ugonabo MD, Echocardiography, Structural Heart, Cardiology, Nuclear Cardiology
Posted: February 11, 2021

Every 60 seconds, a woman dies from heart disease. It is the leading cause of death for women in the United States.

When you think heart disease and heart attacks, sudden and severe chest pain is likely the symptom that comes to mind. For men, it's a telltale sign of a heart attack, but that is not necessarily the case for women.

The symptoms experienced by women can be vastly different. Typically, symptoms are less specific, making it harder to diagnose heart disease.

Symptoms of heart disease in women include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Pain in the abdomen, arms (one or both), back or jaw
  • Nausea that won't go away
  • Palpitations
  • Indigestion

Listen to your body

Pay attention to your body. You know it better than anyone.

With heart disease, especially considering the wide range of symptoms, don't ignore something you think is small. That feeling of something being "a little off" could turn into something significant if it isn't caught early and managed.

Women are caretakers. They take care of loved ones but tend to leave themselves for last. It's important to remember that you can't take care of anyone else if you're ailing, so make your health and wellbeing a priority.

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Is age a factor with heart disease?

Heart attacks can occur at any age, but they tend to occur in older women.

Estrogen is thought to help protect women against heart disease. Subsequently, the incidence of heart disease increases as women age and become postmenopausal. Surgery that results in menopause can also increase the risk of heart disease.


What can I do to prevent heart disease?

The best thing women can do to prevent heart disease is to take care of their health. There are several ways to do this:

  • Become and stay active. Exercise at least 30 minutes per day.
  • Control your cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure and any chronic ailments, as these can lead to worsening of heart disease.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.
  • Eat healthy foods, including lean meats and lots of fruits and vegetables. Minimize fried foods.
  • If you are a smoker, quit smoking.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep.
  • Manage your stress.