Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States? In fact, heart disease and stroke cause 1 in 3 deaths among women each year. That’s more than all cancers combined.
At Vincent R. C. Maribao, MD, in St. Clair Shores, Minnesota, our goal is to prevent disease before it starts. As part of our preventive medicine approach, Dr. Maribao and our compassionate care team offer services that promote wellness to help you develop and keep healthy habits. That’s why we’ve created this useful guide on what you need to know about how heart disease impacts women.
What is heart disease?
Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, isn’t just one but a collection of diseases and medical conditions that affect the health of your heart. Different diseases are grouped according to how they affect varying functions of your heart, such as:
- Heart defects
- Arrhythmias (problems with heart rhythm)
- Blood vessel diseases (e.g., coronary artery disease, heart attack)
- Muscular problems (e.g., cardiomyopathy)
- Valve disorders
Heart disease occurs when part or all of your heart is damaged, when your coronary arteries are damaged, or when you experience a lack of oxygen or nutrients to your heart. Some types of heart disease, however, are genetic and may be present in utero.
Other personal factors and lifestyle choices also have an impact on heart disease. For example, smoking, obesity, age, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, being sedentary, and eating a diet high in processed foods increase your risk of developing heart disease.
How does heart disease affect women differently?
While men and women are almost equally at risk for heart disease, the risk factors and causes are not always the same. Nine out of 10 women have at least one risk factor for heart disease, some of which are shared with men but others unique to women.
Shared risk factors
The major risk factors for heart disease are the same for men and women and include:
- High cholesterol
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Being overweight or obese
- Family history
For a woman, however, obesity or being overweight and smoking increase your risk for heart attack at a greater rate than they do for men. It’s important to discuss any risk factors with Dr. Maribao for early intervention.
Women-specific risk factors
In addition to the above risk factors, women have other challenges and health conditions that increase the likelihood of heart disease. These include:
- Menstruation that occurs early (younger than 10) or late (older than 17)
- Preeclampsia or gestational hypertension
- Preterm delivery (<37 weeks)
- PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome)
- Breast cancer
- Chronic sleep deprivation
- Alcohol consumption
- Hormone medications (e.g., birth control)
- Mental stress and/or depression
Other female-specific concerns
Women are also more likely to experience less common conditions in conjunction with or related to heart disease, including:
- Autoimmune diseases and inflammation (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis)
- Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or broken-heart syndrome
- Microvascular diseases (dysfunction rather than blockage of the arteries)
What are the symptoms of heart disease in women?
Some symptoms of heart disease in women are the same as those in men, such as chest pain or irregular chest palpitations. However, it’s not unusual for women to be asymptomatic until a major event, such as a heart attack.
Symptoms women experience are often not related to chest pain and include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Unusual fatigue
- Unusual sweating
- Shortness of breath
- Arm pain
- Pain in your neck, jaw, upper back, shoulder, or abdomen
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
It’s important to keep preventive care appointments. Dr. Maribao monitors silent symptoms through blood pressure checks and bloodwork, allowing you to take steps to keep heart disease at bay.
How can I prevent heart disease?
While some risk factors may be out of your control, such as age and menopause, there are things you can do to prevent heart disease.
- Eat a heart-healthy, high-fiber diet rich in plants, fruits, seeds, nuts, legumes and beans, and healthy fats
- Exercise regularly
- Don’t smoke
- Eliminate or reduce alcohol consumption
- Manage conditions that contribute to heart disease (e.g., high blood pressure, diabetes)
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Get enough sleep
- Manage your mental health
Don’t become a heart disease statistic. Learn more about women and heart disease and your unique risk factors by scheduling an appointment with Vincent R. C. Maribao, MD, today.