Women’s Cardiovascular Health
Understanding why women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain such as:

    irregular heartbeats, skipped beats, flip-flop feeling in your chest

    Unusually Rapid Heartbeat

    A cold, clammy feeling

Women’s Cardiovascular Health







The death rate from cardiovascular diseases has decreased among men but continues to increase in women.

Although symptoms may be vague and not as prominent as crushing chest pain, usually associated with heart attacks, women tend to have blockages not only in their main arteries, but also in smaller areas, ones which supply blood to the heart. This condition is called Small Vessel Heart Disease or Coronary Microvascular Disease. Women tend to have symptoms more often, while resting or even when sleeping, than found in men. Emotional stress can play a role in triggers of heart attack symptoms in women. Most commonly found, women’s symptoms often are diagnosed less than men’s heart disease because their symptoms differ. Due to women not always recognizing their symptoms as those of a heart attack, they tend to show up in emergency rooms after heart damage has already occurred.

Traditional risk factors for coronary artery disease:


Diet and lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk of heart disease

High Cholesterol, High Blood Pressure, Obesity impact both men and women but other factors can play a bigger role in the development of heart disease in women. Hypertension is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and after 45 years of age more women than men develop hypertension. Symptoms of heart disease manifest themselves differently in women and in men, with women being less likely to present with classic well recognized cardiovascular symptoms. Angina can be mistaken for indigestion or heartburn, and symptoms of myocardial infarction (MI) which can include overwhelming fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, or indigestion. Women, therefore, present themselves late in the disease process by which time they may also have other medical conditions that may affect the prognosis. Which means, women are less likely to be offered intervention, and traditionally have been poorly represented in research/clinical trials. In the US patients diagnosed with acute MI, 38% are women, but only 25% of men die within a year. Within six years of a first MI, 35% of women but only 18% of men will have another MI.


Women with diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease than men with diabetes. As we know, diabetes can affect the way we feel pain, this places you at greater risk of having a silent heart attack without symptoms.

Maintaining a healthy weight and diet. If you are overweight, losing even a few pounds can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of diabetes. Eating healthy diet. Opting for whole grains, with a variety of vegetables, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, including lean meats. Avoiding saturated or trans fats, added sugars and considerable amounts of salt. Diabetes is becoming increasingly common in both men and women, and changes in insulin secretion sensitivity after the menopause contribute to this increase in women. The risk associated with diabetes is higher in women than in men, studies shown women with diabetes were 3.3 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than women without diabetes, whereas as the risk for diabetic men was only 1.7 times that of non-diabetic men.


Mental stress and depression: stress and depression impact women’s heart more than men. Depression makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including following a treatment plan.

Manage your stress. Stress can cause your arteries to tighten, which can increase your risk of heart disease, particularly coronary microvascular disease. You can have elevated levels of stress hormones. These have direct physical effects that put your heart at risk. They increase the risk of blood clotting and cause problems with the inner lining of your blood vessels. Middle Age women with clinical depression have double the risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the following 18 years, compared to women in the 20’s. Research shows that mental health is associated with risk factors for heart disease before a diagnosis of a mental health disorder and during treatment. These effects can arise both directly, through biological pathways and indirectly through risky health behaviors. People experiencing depression, anxiety, stress and even PTSD over an extended period of time, may experience certain physiologic effects on the body, such as increased cardiac reactivity (increased heart rate and blood pressure), reduced blood flow to the heart and heightened levels of cortisol. Overtime these physiologic effects can lead to calcium build up in the arteries, metabolic disease, and heart disease.


Smoking is a greater risk factor for women than in men for heart disease.

Quit smoking. If you do not smoke, do not start. Avoid second-hand smoking exposure which can also damage blood vessels and bone health. Tobacco use is one the most important risk factors both in men and women, although the risks associated with smoking are consistently higher in women than in men. Although studies show in general more men than women smoke, the important and incurring decline in tobacco use among men is worryingly less apparent in women, while there is a disturbing rise in trends in younger women.


Lack of physical activity is a major risk factor for heart disease. Research has found women to be less active than men.

Exercise regularly. Everyone should do moderate exercise, such as walking at a brisk pace on a regular basis. Take the stairs instead of an elevator. Walk or ride your bike to work or to do errands. March in place while watching television. Interval training, alternate short burst of activity with intervals of lighter activity, to maintain a healthy weight, improve blood pressure and keep your heart healthy. Breaking up your workouts between 10-minute sessions throughout the day. Important diet and lifestyle changes including discussions, should still take place early, and women should be encouraged to maintain healthy weight by means of healthy diet with five portions of fruits and vegetables per day, using wholegrain, high-fiber foods, cutting down on saturated fats, increasing mono and polysaturated fats, including cutting down on salt.


Low levels of estrogen after menopause pose significant risk of developing disease in smaller blood vessels.

Cardiovascular disease in women is the leading cause of death after menopause. In fact, more women die from heart disease and stroke than from the next five causes of death combined, including breast cancer. Globally, women are nine times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than of breast cancer. Cardiovascular disease is traditionally thought of as being a problem of middle-aged men. The average age at natural menopause varies between countries and is affected by factors such as genetics, nutrition, smoking and age of menarche. Estrogen deficiency can lead to early, intermediate, and long-term health problems. Being overweight is a significant risk factor and is an increasing problem. Obesity is more common in men than in women before 45 years of age, but after this point the trend reverses. Agents that lower cholesterol levels reduce heart disease risk in both men and women, but it is thought that a larger proportion of women than men are at substantial risk and are not being effectively treated. Studies show that only one in four women associates menopause with high cholesterol, leading into a lack of awareness of the need to consider having cholesterol level checked around the time of menopause.


High blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy can increase the mother’s long-term risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. These conditions also make women more likely to develop heart disease.

Follow your treatment plan during pregnancy. Being careful about weight gain, exercising and eating well are even more important. Tracking your blood pressure and blood sugar more carefully as you get older. Keeping your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and other cardiac risk factors under control is even more important.


This appears to be a greater risk factor in women than in men

Inflammatory diseases: rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and others can increase the risk of heart disease in both men and women.

Manage other health conditions. High blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes increase the risk of heart disease. It has been estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO) that 80% of cardiovascular disease can be prevented by diet and lifestyle changes.

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