Heart Disease What Do Women Need to Know?

womens heart

Did you know that heart disease impacts men and women differently? Research has shown that gender differences exist not only in the way disease affects the heart, but also in the symptoms and the way it is diagnosed. And, in combating this No. 1 killer of women, we must educate women on their individual risk factors and the importance of early diagnosis.

Risk Factors

You may be familiar with risk factors such as smoking and diabetes, but did you know that women smokers are twice as likely to have a heart attack as men who smoke? Diabetes, too, increases the risk of heart disease in women more than it does in men. In addition, women have female-specific issues that increase their overall risk for heart disease later in life such as pregnancy-induced hypertension, gestational diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, and chest radiation after breast cancer.


Women may have different heart symptoms than men and the symptoms of a heart attack in women can be subtle. Both men and women can experience the typical chest pain, pressure or discomfort, but women are somewhat more likely than men to experience more subtle symptoms, such as shortness of breath, dizziness or lightheadedness, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, or extreme fatigue.

Diagnosis and Treatment

As women, we tend to put our spouses and families first, downplaying or ignoring our own symptoms and delaying talking with our doctors or going to the hospital. This is part of the reason why we’re diagnosed and treated later. Women have also been underrepresented in cardiac studies, which have set the standard for diagnosis and treatment. Because of this, we may respond to treatment differently than men. And, unfortunately, female patients also do not do as well after certain heart-related medical procedures and are prescribed medical therapies less often.

Taking Charge of Your Health

The first step to creating a healthier heart and lifestyle is knowing and understanding your current state of health. Heart health is different for women than men.  We want to promote awareness of women’s heart disease and women’s specific needs in heart care. We believe in treating the whole person and promoting wellness through nutrition, activity and the latest advancements in diagnostics and treatment. Heart health means taking care of yourself from the roots up. 

By: Benita Burke, M.D., FACC, Medical Director, Valley Medical Group’s Heart Care for Women

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