Women’s Heart Health: Risk factors, symptoms, and management

a woman smiling at another woman facing her

The differences between men and women’s heart health.

There are many differences between men’s and women’s health, even when it comes to the heart. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women in the U.S., accounting for nearly 1 in 5 female deaths.1 Learn the common risk factors, symptoms, and how to manage your heart health as a woman.

Risk factors for women

Many common heart disease risk factors affect both men and women, such as hypertension, smoking, family history, and obesity. But some risk factors are specific to women or affect them more severely, including:

  • Diabetes Women with diabetes are more likely to be at risk of developing heart disease than men with diabetes.2
  • Age 55+ Your risk for developing heart disease increases with age regardless of gender. Women tend to get coronary artery disease about 10 years later than men. Women aged 55 and older are considered at-risk.3
  • Preeclampsia Women who experienced preeclampsia (high blood pressure that affects other organ systems during pregnancy) have a higher risk of developing heart or blood vessel complications later in life.3
  • Menopause-related changes Women with early menopause are at higher risk for heart disease. Post-menopause, women tend to get higher cholesterol, which can contribute to heart disease.
  • Smoking Women who smoke have a higher risk of developing heart disease than men who smoke.2

Symptoms of heart disease

Heart disease refers to several types of heart conditions such as coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, and heart attack. Symptoms of heart disease can vary, and women may experience different symptoms than men. In fact, women are more likely to experience nonspecific, atypical symptoms and less likely to experience ones that are related to chest pain.2 Common symptoms for women may include:

  • Irregular heart beats (arrhythmia)
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Pain in one or both arms, the jaws, or in the upper back
  • Nausea

According to the Mayo Clinic, women may experience symptoms more often while resting or even while they’re asleep. It’s important to speak with your doctor if you’ve experienced any of these symptoms or have concerns about your heart health.

Managing your heart health

There are some risk factors we simply can’t change, but there are still ways to help prevent heart disease or manage it if you’ve already been diagnosed. Try to incorporate these into your daily routine.

  • Eat heart-healthy foods that fuel your body and help take care of your heart.
  • Stay active with a recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week.4
  • Quit smoking.
  • Learn new ways to reduce stress, which can help manage your blood pressure.

As always, your doctor is your best resource. Talk with them about preventative and management tips tailored to fit your specific health and lifestyle.

Sources:
  1. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/women.htm
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-disease/art-20046167
  3. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/education-and-awareness/heart-truth/listen-to-your-heart
  4. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/consumer-healthcare/what-is-cardiovascular-disease/menopause-and-heart-disease