Women and Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States due in part to the many myths surrounding this disease. Many women think of it as just a man’s disease, and because heart disease symptoms may look different in women, they may not speak up about their symptoms or seek the care they need.

At CHI Saint Joseph Health, we’re committed to raising awareness and helping prevent heart and vascular disease in women throughout our Lexington and surrounding central Kentucky communities. Our comprehensive services include ongoing screening and prevention programs, advanced heart imaging services, ongoing education and support and a full range of treatment options to help you get and stay heart-healthy.

To make an appointment, call 859.313.2255 or find a heart care specialist anytime online.

If you think you may be having a heart attack, call 911 immediately.

Separate Facts from Condition Fiction

Many women may blame their symptoms on stress, indigestion or other causes rather than heart disease. The cardiovascular care providers at CHI Saint Joseph Health want you to know the facts, not the myths, so you and the women you love can be heart healthy. 

Fact: Heart disease actually strikes more women than men. Unfortunately, about half of women don’t even realize that heart disease is the leading cause of death for females. 

Fact: Heart disease kills more women than all kinds of cancer combined—including breast cancer.

Fact: Heart disease can strike any woman, whether or not she has a family history of heart disease. Lifestyle choices, such as smoking, exercise and diet have a major impact on heart disease risk. 

Fact: This is one of the most damaging myths out there. In reality, there are many steps you can take to reduce your chances of developing and dying from heart disease. Quitting smoking, exercising, losing weight, eating a heart-healthy diet, controlling elevated blood sugar and taking medications as recommended for high blood pressure and high cholesterol can go a very long way toward reducing heart disease risk. 

Fact: Generally, fit and/or trim women do have a lower risk of heart disease than sedentary women. However, fitness and thinness don’t offer complete protection. Smoking and poor eating habits can raise heart disease risk, as can high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.  

Women: Watch for These Symptoms

Men and women with heart disease may have different symptoms. For example, men with heart disease are more likely to feel chest pain during activity that goes away when they’re at rest. For women with heart disease, the opposite is more likely to happen.

Men having a heart attack commonly break out in a cold sweat and feel pain in the left arm. This is less likely to occur in women. And although chest pain is the most common heart attack symptom in both women and men, only half of women having a heart attack experience chest pain.

Some women do experience what is thought of as the "classic" heart attack symptom: crushing or squeezing pain in the chest. But many women experience other symptoms. Women should be on the lookout for the following:

  • Chest pain, pressure or discomfort (angina) while you’re
  • Sharp, burning feelings in your chest
  • Pain or discomfort in your neck, throat, jaw, back or upper abdomen
  • Pain or discomfort in your upper arms
  • Indigestion or heartburn
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath or problems breathing
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Heart palpitations (feeling of fluttering in the chest)
  • Swelling in your feet, legs, ankles or abdomen
  • Physical symptoms that occur suddenly after an event that is extremely stressful (physical or emotional stress)

Keep in mind that heart disease doesn’t always cause symptoms—women and men with a condition known as silent heart disease experience no symptoms at all. In fact, more than 60% percent of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms.

That’s why, even if you have no symptoms, it’s important to have regular check-ups with your primary care provider and to make an appointment with a heart specialist if your primary care provider recommends it.

Prevention Starts Here

The good news for women—and men—is that heart disease is largely preventable. By recognizing your risk, changing lifestyle factors that can harm your heart and getting high-quality medical care, you can take charge of your heart health.

To learn more, visit a heart care specialist at CHI Saint Joseph Health location near you: