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Do women have heart attacks?

Dr. Michael W. Gen, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Women have heart attacks to a large degree. One in three women die each year from cardiovascular disease, and are more likely to die from heart attacks than men.

Not only do women have heart attacks, but cardiovascular disease is the #1 killer of women. While many women know this, they do not always develop personal habits to reduce the risk of having a heart attack. But women should think about it, because what women do each day in part determines their risk for developing cardiovascular disease and suffering its life-threatening consequences.

Cardiovascular disease develops over time, affecting women’s bodies in ways they might not notice until it is too late. By thinking about it now, women can learn ways to reduce their risk, recognize the warning signs of a heart attack, and insist on getting the help they need. Your life or the life of someone you love may depend on it.

One in three women over the age of 20 has some form of cardiovascular disease. It strikes women at younger ages than most people think, and the risk rises in middle age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the third most common cause of death among women ages 25 to 44 years old, and two-thirds of women who have heart attacks never fully recover.

Worldwide, cardiovascular disease is the single most common cause of death among women, regardless of race and ethnicity, and yet many women are still dangerously unaware that they are at risk, especially African American and Hispanic women. Women ages 55 to 64 are twice as likely as white women to have a heart attack and 35 percent more likely to suffer from heart disease.

Linda Martinez
Cardiac Rehabilitation Specialist

Coronary artery disease, the cause of heart attacks, is the number one killer in women, just as it is in men of the United States.  Research studies show that the symptoms that women have with coronary artery disease is similar to those of men for example: chest discomfort, left arm pain, shortness of breath.  However, research has also shown that women more often than men experience symptoms such as extreme fatigue.  They also tend to have more episodes of chest pain related to emotional upset than men.  For these reasons, women are often misdiagnosed with other conditions.  The American Heart Association has a campaign devoted to heart disease awareness in women.  February 4, 2011 is "Go Red" for women day.  Visit www.americanheart.org for more details.

Heart attacks in women are a lot more common than people think. It is a myth that heart disease and heart attacks only affect men. In movies the man clutches his chest and falls to the ground.

Heart disease is the number one killer of women. Actually more women die from heart disease than all cancers combined. All the symptoms in men are typical and relatively common in women too. That includes chest pain and tightness in the chest. 

Carolyn  Thomas
Healthcare Specialist

Not only do women have heart attacks, there are a number of cardiovascular risk factors that are unique to women. We now know that certain pregnancy complications are associated with increased risk of heart disease. Women diagnosed with pre-eclampsia during pregnancy, for example, are 2-3 times more likely to have subsequent heart disease - years and even decades down the road - compared to women who don't have pre-eclampsia. See also: "Pregnancy Complications Strongly Linked to Heart Disease" - http://myheartsisters.org/2010/12/12/pre-eclampsia-link-heart-disease/ 

Taking oral contraceptives can increase the risk of high blood pressure and blood clots, particularly for women who smoke, already have high blood pressure (especially if you are over the age of 35), have other risk factors for heart disease or stroke, or already have a blood clotting problem.

Depression is also a known risk factor for heart disease, and women in general are twice as likely to suffer depression compared to men.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.