The leading cause of death for women in the United States is heart disease, accounting for about 1 in every 5 female deaths.
Know the Symptoms of Heart Disease
Many of the symptoms we commonly know as associated with heart disease are male-specific. Symptoms in a female can be misleading and often silent/asymptomatic. Some symptoms of heart disease women should watch for include:
- Dull and heavy or sharp chest pain/discomfort (angina), can be confused with chronic indigestion
- Neck, jaw or throat pain, usually sudden onset and/or radiating down the neck
- Upper abdomen or back pain, especially if not relieved by rest or traditional over-the-counter medications
- Nausea or vomiting
Prevention is Key to Managing Heart Disease
About 1 in 5 women age 20 and older (6.2%) have coronary artery disease - the most common type of heart disease. The CDC recommends managing these things:
- Blood pressure. Know your numbers. High blood pressure has no physical symptoms. If you have high blood pressure, discuss actions you can take to lower it with your provider, some can be medication, but others can be simple changes to your daily routine.
- Diabetes. Ask your provider if you should be tested. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends being tested every 3 years starting at age 45 – but you may need earlier or more frequent screening.
- Blood cholesterol/triglycerides. Ask your provider about checking your numbers. ACOG recommends measuring every 4 to 6 years, starting at age 21.
- Food. Make healthy choices and keep your weight under control, which can be easier said than done, especially as we age as women. Your providers can help with tips and tricks to try to keep this in control.
- Alcohol. Limit yourself to 1 drink a day or less – opt for other types of beverages that can help with stress or that you can choose when out with friends.
- Stress. Choose healthy ways to cope with daily stressors – a little fresh air goes a long way.
- Smoking. Quit, or better yet, don’t start. There are many options out there for you to help with smoking cessation – just ask your provider!
- Exercise. Get 150 minutes of physical activity a week – or 30 minutes a day, five days a week. It is okay to break it up to make it more manageable. This could be as simple as a walk during your lunch break, especially as the weather starts to get better. Getting 150 minutes can sound like a lot, but even if you start with 10 minutes, that is more than you were doing before – and you can work your way up. It won't take that long.
The best thing we can do as women is be preventative! These are great topics to bring up with your provider at your annual exam. Take action to protect your heart. A little goes a long way, and it is never too late to start.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2017 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released December 2018. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999-2017, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed on Feb. 18, 2019.
- Benjamin EJ, Muntner P, Alonso A, Bittencourt MS, Callaway CW, Carson AP, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2019 update: a report from the American Heart Association external icon. Circulation. 2019;139:e1–e473.
Originally Published: May 2022. Revised: January 2023.