Heart disease refers to several types of heart conditions, including coronary artery disease and heart attack. Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States, and there are certain risk factors that are shared among men and women, including:
- Family history
- High blood pressure
However, recent studies have shown there are some risk factors of heart disease that uniquely affect women, including:
- Increased levels of testosterone prior to menopause
- Elevated hypertension during menopause
- Autoimmune diseases that are more common in women, for example, rheumatoid arthritis
Symptoms of heart disease can differ between men and women. In men, heart attacks are often caused by a rupture of cholesterol-filled plaque in a coronary artery, which can lead to symptoms such as chest pain and feeling weak or light-headed.
While women may also experience these classic symptoms, women are more likely to experience symptoms such as back pain and indigestion, making it harder to diagnose or detect a heart attack. Small vessel disease, which can lead to a heart attack, is also more common in women. This condition may lead to a common symptom of chest pain (angina) but show no major plaque buildup in the major coronary arteries. As a result, women with this condition may not be aware they are at risk of a heart attack.
Both men and women can lower their risk of heart disease by staying physically active, eating a heart-healthy diet, and not smoking. If you have any concerns about your heart health, please consult with your physician.
- Learn more about angina
- Learn more about the symptoms of coronary artery disease (CAD) and advanced heart failure
- Learn more about how tobacco affects the heart and blood vessels
- Heart Disease: Differences in Men and Women. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/heart_vascular_institute/centers_excellence/women_cardiovascular_health_center/patient_information/health_topics/heart_disease_gender_differences.html
- Heart Attack and Stroke: Men vs Women. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/heart-attack-and-stroke-men-vs-women
- Women and Heart Disease. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/women.htm
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