Women are half as likely as men to survive their first heart attack and significantly more likely than men to have a second attack within one year. Furthermore, diagnosing heart attacks can be more difficult in women than men because women tend to have less "typical" symptoms. Women are encouraged to learn all they can about preventing heart attacks and getting the earliest possible treatment if they experience any symptoms of a heart attack.
- Heart disease is the #1 cause of death in American women
- It is estimated that almost one in two women will eventually die of heart disease or stroke
- After age 50, women begin to develop and die of heart disease at a rate equal to that of men
- 38% of women who have heart attacks die within a year, compared to 25% of men
- 63% of women who die from coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms
- Many women and their doctors do not recognize the early signs of a heart attack
- Some diagnostic tests and procedures, including the exercise stress test, or stress ECG, might be less accurate in women.
Women's Symptoms of a Heart Attack
- Pain or discomfort in the center of the chest, including tightness, pressure or a squeezing sensation
- Pain or discomfort in the upper back, shoulders, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath, often without any chest pain
- Nausea or indigestion-like symptoms
- Unexplained fatigue, weakness or dizziness
If you experience any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately or go to the nearest Emergency Room immediately.
For an easy way to keep heart attack information on hand, check out our card on heart attack warning signs. Print it out and keep with you, or hang it on your fridge so its readily available.
Women's Risk Factors
Tobacco Use. Women, who smoke, are two to six times more likely to suffer a heart attack as non-smoking women. Women who smoke also tend to suffer their first heart attack an average of 19 years earlier than nonsmokers. Stopping smoking is the single most effective thing you can do to prevent heart disease.
Cholesterol Levels. High cholesterol is another important risk factor you can control. The higher a woman’s LDL cholesterol level, the higher her risk for heart disease. The higher a woman’s HDL cholesterol level, the lower her risk for heart disease. Following a low-fat diet and regular exercise can help optimize cholesterol levels. Medications may also be used to lower cholesterol levels. It is important to have cholesterol levels checked annually, looking at the total cholesterol, and HDL/LDL fractions.
Diabetes. About 75 percent of people with diabetes have some form of cardiovascular disease. Women with diabetes are two to three times as likely to have heart attacks than those without. For unknown reasons, women with diabetes are at higher risk for heart disease and heart-related death than men with diabetes. You can postpone or prevent diabetes with weight reduction, proper nutrition and exercise. If you already have diabetes, aggressive sugar control is very important to prevent future complications.
High Blood Pressure. More than half of women over the age of 55 suffer from high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease. Even slight elevations can increase the risk. High blood pressure is more common and more severe in African-American women, who have double the risk of death from heart disease, compared with other ethnic groups. You can lower high blood pressure through weight reduction, exercise, salt restriction and medications.
Being Overweight. Being overweight also increases the chance of developing other risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol levels. A diet low in fat and regular exercise can bring weight down to a healthy level.
Physical Inactivity. Physical inactivity increases the chance of heart disease. It contributes directly to heart related problems, as well as to the development of other risk factors. According to the Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health, 60 percent of American women don’t get the recommended amount of physical activity and 25 percent are not active at all. As little as 30 minutes of moderate exercise, per day, can help protect against heart disease.