Women Have Different Risks and Warning Signs for Heart Disease
Heart disease is often thought of as a problem for men, but more women than men die of heart disease each year. It is the leading cause of death for both women and men in the United States, but women and men develop and experience heart disease differently.
Women can have different risk factors
Many of the major risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity, are the same for men and women. But other factors can play a bigger role in the development of heart disease in women than they do for men.
Mental stress and depression, metabolic syndrome, and smoking have a more significant impact on women's risk for heart disease than men's.
In addition, low levels of estrogen after menopause cause greater risk of developing heart disease in the smaller blood vessels.
Women's heart attacks can be more severe
Women usually have smaller hearts and narrower coronary arteries. They also tend to have blockages in the smaller vessels in addition to the main arteries. That may be part of the reason that women's heart attack symptoms are often more subtle than the usual crushing chest pain many men experience during a heart attack.
Although chest pain is the most common symptom in men and women, women are more likely to experience other symptoms like:
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea and vomiting
- Unusual fatigue, sweating
- Light-headedness or dizziness
- Pain in the abdomen or upper body (neck, shoulder, upper back or jaw)
These more subtle warning signs may be part of the reason women are less likely to believe they are having a heart attack. Thus, they are more likely than men to delay getting treatment. This delay can be deadly because early treatment is critical for both immediate survival and avoiding permanent damage to the heart.
All women should take the risk of heart disease seriously. It is the number one killer of women age 20 and over. It kills approximately one woman every minute. In fact, more women die of heart disease than the next highest four causes of death combined, including all forms of cancer.
Both women and men can lower their risk by changing their lifestyle. Not smoking, improving your diet, maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise and managing stress can help reduce your risks.
Sources: American Heart Association; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Mayo Clinic; and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute