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:
- Weakness or dizziness
- Loss of appetite
- 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
- Overweight and obesity
- High cholesterol
- Physical inactivity
- Family history
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.