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Ten Things to Know about Heart Disease in Women

By Lizanne Laird, CNP

Monument Health


Heart disease causes more deaths in women than all cancers, including breast cancer.

More women die of heart disease than men, causing one out of every three deaths in women, and one out for every four in men.

Coronary heart disease tends to develop later in women’s lives than in men’s.

Coronary heart disease in women usually develops 7-10 years later in life than it does in men. For women in their 70s and 80s, the risk of heart disease exceeds that of men, and after the age of 65, women have a higher rate of hypertension than men. One reason behind the difference is that menopause triggers a number of risk factors such as weight gain, higher blood pressure and unfavorable changes in cholesterol levels.

Diabetes and hypertension during pregnancy are early warning signs of lifelong elevated heart risk.

Women who experience gestational diabetes and hypertension are more likely to experience heart disease at some point in their life, even if these conditions resolve after giving birth.

Diabetes is the strongest risk factor for cardiovascular disease in women.

Since 1985 the main drivers of cardiovascular disease are being overweight and obesity, which leads to hypertension, diabetes and prediabetes. Recent studies suggest that diabetes more than triples the chance of coronary artery disease in women.

Women who struggle with depression or anxiety may have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in women.

Depression and anxiety can increase heart rate and blood pressure while reducing the flow of blood to the heart and increasing the production of the stress hormone cortisol. This can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Early care saves lives.

Women tend to wait longer before they call 911 or visit the emergency room when they have a heart attack, but early care saves lives. Be aware of the symptoms of heart attack. Women have many of the same symptoms as men, and as often. These symptoms include pain, pressure, tightness, squeezing or burning in the chest, discomfort in the chest, back, arms, back, neck or jaw, pain traveling down one or both arms, shortness of breath or a feeling similar to heartburn. However, women are more likely to experience three or more other symptoms, including nausea or vomiting, unusual tiredness or fatigue, cold sweat, dizziness or weakness, anxiety or palpitations.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm disorder in women.
Atrial fibrillation or AFib is an irregular heart rhythm with potential to lead to blood clots or stroke, and the onset of AFib in women is associated with increased risk of heart failure. In postmenopausal women hypertension and obesity are the main risk factors for AFib, but other risk factors include tobacco use, overuse of alcohol and diabetes.

More than 3.5 million women in the United States are affected by heart failure every year.

Common causes of heart failure include coronary artery disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart rhythm disorders. Other causes may include heart inflammation, heart valve problems, congenital heart problems, obesity and overuse of illegal drugs and alcohol.

Women with who experience heart failure are typically older, with a higher body weight and greater prevalence of hypertension, diabetes and kidney dysfunction.

Women can reduce their risk of heart disease.

Many of the risks of heart disease can be reduced, often with simple steps. Individuals who eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day have lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Avoiding high fat and high salt content foods and high calorie sugary drinks can help reduce the risk of diabetes. Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best steps a woman can take to reduce their risk of heart disease, and I would encourage anyone seeking help with that to ask their health care provider to refer them to a dietician who is knowledgeable in heart healthy eating.

It’s important to know your numbers.

For many people, it can be challenging to understand the numbers associated with their health and risk factors for heart disease but getting an idea of how to interpret these numbers can be very helpful. A few examples include:
● Blood pressure: Optimal blood pressure is 120 systolic or lower and diastolic less than 80.
● Cholesterol levels: The ideal total cholesterol or TC is less than 200mg/dl, HDL is higher than 60 mg/dl in women, LDL is lower than 100 mg/dl and triglycerides are less than 150 mg/dl.
● Fasting blood sugar: The optimal level is less than 100mg/dl.
This is only intended to give you a rough idea of how to understand these numbers. For a better understanding, please speak with your health care provider.


Lizanne Laird, CNP, is an Advanced Practice Provider at Monument Health Heart and Vascular Institute.

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