When many think of heart disease patients, middle-aged men come to mind first. However, although it holds the top position as a killer of both sexes, more women suffer from heart disease than men do. Because of this, the myth that cardiovascular problems affect mainly men needs to be discarded, and women should understand the risks as well as the signs and symptoms.

Symptoms of Heart Disease

A distinct problem that results in delay of proper treatment is that women often have atypical symptoms or few symptoms at all. When heart-related pain occurs, it may present itself in the abdominal region, the jaw, the back or shoulders instead of the chest. Other symptoms, such as nausea, fatigue and dizziness, are also easily mistaken for the flu or other illnesses. This means that women may be unaware that they are experiencing heart problems, and they may put off seeking medical help when needed. It is important to note that some women experience no symptoms at all.

Heart-related pain, also called angina, can occur during activity or during rest. Emotional stress can also bring on these symptoms. Palpitations are another symptom to watch for and may or may not be accompanied by pain. Some describe the feeling as butterflies in the chest. Swelling in the ankles, legs or abdomen can also be a sign of heart failure.

Heart Problems that Primarily Effect Women

Hormone fluctuations take a toll on the heart. When estrogen drops, as it does during menopause, the heart vessels can be affected. More women than men also suffer from stress-related cardiomyopathy, which can occur after prolonged stress or severe emotional trauma.

Contributing Factors

Women who smoke, drink more than one alcoholic drink per day, have a sedentary lifestyle or eat a high fat, high sodium diet increase their risk of developing heart disease.

Diabetics, women with high blood pressure, and women with metabolic syndrome, which is characterized in part by excess fat in the abdominal region, also face increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.


Because symptoms are sometimes absent or easy to miss in women, prevention should involve getting blood pressure checked frequently and undergoing any blood work or other medical screening your doctor may encourage. In addition to seeing your physician, keep your weight under control, avoid smoking and excessive alcohol use, avoid diets high in fat and sodium and get regular exercise. Stress-mitigating exercises such as meditation, yoga and Tai Chi may also help by lowering the effects of stress on the body.

A specialist from ICE, Institute of Cardiovascular Excellence, says you are never too young or old to start taking good care of your heart. Talk to your doctor about steps you should take to cut your risk of developing heart disease. If you experience any symptoms, always take them seriously and seek medical help.

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