Despite advances in medicine, heart disease remains the No. 1 cause of death among adults in the United States. Men and women are both at risk for heart disease, yet there are some differences in symptoms and risk factors that women face.
At CA Heart and Vein Specialists, we know the positive impact of arming our patients with heart health knowledge. While heart disease is often thought of as a man’s problem, it’s not. Fortunately, when you’re aware of the impact of heart disease in women, you can take steps to reduce your risk.
Heart disease fast facts
When it comes to diseases and gender, women often worry most about breast cancer. But did you realize that heart disease kills far more women each year than breast cancer? Only 50% of women know that heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in women. Here are some fast facts about heart disease you should know:
- Over 600,000 people die of heart disease each year
- Each year, over 700,000 people in the US have a heart attack
- Coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease
- Less than 30% of people are familiar with all heart attack symptoms
- Obesity, hypertension, poor diet, and lack of exercise are major risk factors for both men and women
Heart disease kills nearly 300,000 American women each year, across all backgrounds and ethnic groups, although Native American and Alaska Native women are at a slightly lower risk of heart disease compared to other ethnic groups. Roughly 1 in 16 women age 20 and over has coronary artery disease.
Heart disease kills more women than men
Heart disease doesn’t affect men and women equally. In fact, men who develop heart disease have a better chance of survival compared to women.
When men develop coronary artery disease, the plaque buildup that causes arteries to stiffen and narrow tends to remain localized. This makes heart disease in men easier to treat.
Women, on the other hand, tend to develop plaque buildup that is scattered and spread out. These blockages are more difficult to pinpoint and treat, impacting the outcome. This is one reason heart disease kills more women than men.
Heart attack symptoms differ in women
When you think of a heart attack, symptoms of crushing chest pain and excruciating chest pressure tend to come to mind. It may surprise you to know that men, not women, are more likely to have these classic warning signs of an impending heart attack. These more obvious heart attack symptoms enable men to get checked swiftly.
Women often have vague symptoms that are more subtle and more likely to be dismissed as stress or an off day. Women who have a heart attack often recall earlier symptoms that they failed to recognize as warning signs that something was amiss with their heart. Symptoms to look out for include:
- Low stamina
- Getting winded easily (shortness of breath)
- Arm pain
- Abdominal pain
Any delay in treatment can cause significant damage to your heart muscle. Because every minute counts, women should seek immediate medical attention when experiencing one or more of these symptoms.
Know the early warning signs
Women tend to experience symptoms in the weeks and months leading up to a heart attack. Be aware of these warning signs:
- Fatigue: Sudden extreme exhaustion where you wake up tired and have trouble carrying out normal daily activities
- Sleep disturbance: Trouble falling asleep at night or waking up several times during the night after you’ve fallen asleep
- Shortness of breath: Becoming winded with very little exertion and feeling better when you rest
- Chest discomfort: Feeling a pressure, ache, dullness, or a burning sensation in your chest
Heart disease is preventable
A number of factors influence your risk for heart disease. While age and family history are outside of your control, the most significant risk factors are controllable.
Watching your weight, quitting smoking, eating a nutritious diet, managing existing health conditions, getting plenty of exercise, and avoiding excess alcohol are powerful ways to protect your heart health.
Be proactive. Dr. Majed Chane can conduct a cardiovascular screening to assess your risk for heart disease. Even if you’re in excellent health, routine checkups are recommended for women age 45 and over. Women who are overweight or have other risk factors should start annual screening at age 40.
To learn more and to schedule your screening, contact our Huntington Beach, California, office or use our convenient online scheduling tool.