Heart Disease in Women: Symptoms, Risk Factors and Conditions

The Women’s Cardiovascular Health Clinic at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center understands that the symptoms and complications of heart disease are different in women than in men, and our extensive experience in treating women’s heart disease means we have unmatched expertise in central Ohio. By being aware of the symptoms and risks unique to women and taking the necessary heart healthy precautions and seeking routine care, you can be protected.

Heart Attack Symptoms for Women

A heart attack is one serious condition that can result from heart disease. Like heart disease overall, the warning signs of a heart attack may differ in women than in men.

A women having a heart attack may experience the same symptoms as a man, but she may also experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Coughing
  • Heart palpitations
  • Back pain
  • Jaw pain and/or cold sweats
  • Leg pain while walking - can be a symptom of Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD), a predictor of heart attack and stroke
  • Stroke - risk doubles for a women if someone in her immediate family had a stroke  

Symptoms can occur suddenly or develop over hours, days or weeks.

Women often ignore these symptoms or attribute them to other factors. Women who have heart attacks are more likely to die from them than men because women are uninformed about the symptoms, ignore the symptoms or are reluctant to seek prompt medical attention.

Not seeking help when symptoms of a heart attack occur can lead to permanent damage or even death. If you have symptoms of a heart attack, it is important to call 911 or seek help immediately.

Heart Disease Risk Factors

There are several key risk factors for heart disease and stroke:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Overweight and obesity
  • High cholesterol
  • Physical inactivity
  • Family history
  • Medications/supplements

Heart disease risk factors can affect women differently than men.

Heart disease risk factors can affect women differently than men. For example, smoking and diabetes are risk factors for both men and women, but they pose a greater risk for women than men. In addition, hormone replacement therapy for women may be associated with increased risk for heart disease, blood clots and strokes.

What can women do to reduce their risk of heart disease?

  • Exercise - 3o minutes a day, 5 days a week increase your heart rate through moderately intense exercise OR 20 minutes a day 3 days a week increase your heart rate through vigorous cardiovascular exercise
  • Avoid Salt - Avoid food in which large amounts of salt/sodium have been added - including frozen dinners, cured meats and lunch meats, processed cheese and most canned products such as soup, vegetables and pasta sauces.
  • Eat Fish - The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish, particularly fatty fish, like salmon, per week.
  • Reduce Stress - Set aside time to reduce your stress and do something you enjoy!

Women do have heart disease risk factors that can be prevented, such as:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels
  • High blood pressure, especially if combined with obesity

After age 55, women may have higher LDL cholesterol levels than men, which increases the risk of heart disease. It is important to have your cholesterol levels checked regularly and to take steps to keep them at medically acceptable levels.

After menopause, women are also more likely to develop high blood pressure – a significant contributor to heart disease. The tendency towards high blood pressure is compounded if obesity is present.

Many women can reduce their LDL cholesterol level and blood pressure by making lifestyle changes, such as increasing physical activity and eating a heart healthy diet. If your cholesterol and blood pressure cannot be normalized with lifestyle changes, your healthcare provider may recommend medication to help.

It is important to take whatever steps you can to keep cholesterol and blood pressure in control because they are major contributors to heart disease. Your healthcare provider also may recommend other over-the-counter or prescription medications if you are at high risk for heart disease.

COVID-19 Update

During this time of public health concern, the Heart and Vascular Center at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center remains open for appointments, including telehealth or video visits. For all in-person visits, you can feel secure in the knowledge that our locations are safe. We've taken significant measures to minimize the risk of the spread of COVID-19 and worked tirelessly to ensure that our patients are protected. 

To schedule an appointment, call 614-293-ROSS. Visit our COVID-19 page to get the latest information about how Ohio State is handling the outbreak.

If you are experiencing an emergency, call 911. Don’t wait and don’t risk driving yourself to the hospital. 

Heart Attack Signs and Women with Dr. Mehta

Ohio State cardiologist Dr. Laxmi Mehta explains heart attack symptoms and how women may have different symptoms and signs of a heart attack than men.

Heart disease symptoms in women

Women may have very different symptoms of heart disease than men. Two of the most common are shortness of breath and fatigue, says Cindy Baker, MD, FACC, an interventional cardiologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Heart Conditions

There are a breadth of heart conditions that have significance for women, including:

  • Cardiovascular complications during pregnancy that result in cardiovascular disease
  • Effects on the heart of gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and pregnancy-related hypertension
  • Congenital heart disease and pregnancy. We have a specialist who counsels patients on the possible complications of becoming pregnant and who cares for patients with congenital heart disease through gestation and delivery.
    Pulmonary hypertension, which disproportionately affects women. One of our physicians is devoted solely to treating women with pulmonary hypertension, a specialization found at only a handful of medical centers in the United States.
  • Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and polycystic ovarian disease, which predominantly affect women and often are accompanied by heart disease
  • Functional amenorrhea, which accelerates heart disease
  • Diabetes, which raises a woman’s risk of heart disease much more so than a man’s
  • Coronary microvascular disease, also known as small vessel disease or cardiac syndrome X, which affects women more frequently and is often under-diagnosed. This is a condition in which the small arteries in the heart have become narrowed.
  • Familial hypercholesterolemia, a genetic disorder that results in early onset heart disease

Heart Disease Facts

Heart disease is a very real health concern for women. Consider these facts:

  • Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death of women in the United States
  • 1 in 3 women will develop heart disease
  • Heart attacks kill 200,000 American women each year, five times more than breast cancer
  • Coronary artery disease, which causes heart attacks, is the number one killer of women in America
  • 1 in 4 women die in the United States each year die from heart disease
  • Heart diseases cause almost twice as many deaths among women as all forms of cancer combined
  • More than one in three female adults in the United States has some form of cardiovascular disease. Females represent more than half of deaths from cardiovascular disease.
  • Sixty-four percent of women who die suddenly of coronary artery disease had no previous symptoms

Why choose Ohio State for women's heart health needs?

The Women's Cardiovascular Health Clinic is one of only a handful of clinics in the country devoted to women's heart health and Ohio State Ross Hospital is one of the best hospitals in the country for heart and vascular care.

Ohio State's dedicated team of women's heart experts offers a full breadth of services to prevent, diagnose and treat heart disease.

We provide a thorough risk assessment for all women who choose Ohio State for care. Our team will provide you with an individual care plan and will connect you with all the services you need, from lifestyle counseling to medications, surgery and cardiac rehabilitation.

Depending on your health, an expert will:

  • Evaluate your risk of developing heart disease
  • Assess and treat you for heart-related symptoms
  • Treat you for known heart disease conditions
  • Understand and take into account the sex-specific differences in your heart condition when personalizing a treatment plan for you

Women's heart health research

Along with prevention, we also conduct research to understand women's hearts better and to bring improvements to patients.

Ohio State women's heart health experts are currently pursuing research in:

  • Stress testing for women
  • Diagnostic testing in women for ischemic heart disease and coronary microvascular disease
  • Role of hormones in heart disease
  • Heart attack mortality rates in women versus men
  • Heart disease risk for breast cancer survivors

Ohio State is home to nationally renowned experts who specialize in the research and prevention of heart disease in women.

Did you know that women comprise only 27 percent of participants in all heart-related research studies? Find out how you can become involved in a clinical trial at Ohio State.

Women's Health Leadership

Our leaders

laxmi mehta

Laxmi Mehta, MD

Clinical Director, Women’s Cardiovascular Health Program

Dr. Mehta is section director of Preventive Cardiology and the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Program and a professor of clinical medicine at Ohio State. Dr. Mehta holds the Sarah Ross Soter Endowed Chair in Women’s Cardiovascular Health. She previously served as the president of the Ohio Chapter of the American College of Cardiology and serves on several national committees. She has published peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. Dr. Mehta also specializes in lipids/cholesterol and echocardiography. 


Our Doctors

Cindy Baker, MD
4.9 out of 5

Cindy Baker, MD

  • Interventional Cardiology
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Physician
  • Outpatient Care Upper Arlington
  • Heart and Vascular Memorial Health
(614) 293-7677
Mary Breckenridge, MD
4.8 out of 5

Mary Breckenridge, MD

  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Physician
  • Heart and Vascular Bellefontaine
  • Outpatient Care Upper Arlington
(614) 293-7677
Laxmi Mehta, MD
4.8 out of 5

Laxmi Mehta, MD

  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Physician
  • Outpatient Care Stoneridge Dublin
  • Outpatient Care Upper Arlington
(614) 293-7677
Elisa Bradley, MD
4.9 out of 5

Elisa Bradley, MD

  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Physician
  • Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital
(614) 293-4299
Women's Heart Providers

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