Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, killing one person every 37 seconds. It’s a health condition that doesn’t discriminate, affecting the lives of men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the U.S.
It may surprise you to find that out for women, one in every five female deaths were caused by heart disease. Despite these daunting facts about heart disease in women, the CDC estimates that only about half (56 percent) of women recognize the impact of cardiovascular health on the female population.
These concerning statistics suggest that every women in America faces the threat of heart disease. It’s time that we spread the word about heart disease and heart attack symptoms in women, and how to support your cardiovascular health for years to come.
Heart Disease in Women Statistics
Despite growing awareness about the causes and treatment of cardiovascular disease, a majority of adults in the U.S. don’t fully understand how heart conditions are the No. 1 killer for women.
Take a look at the CDC’s most recent statistics highlighting the significant impact of heart disease in women:
- One in 5 female deaths is caused by heart disease.
- In 2017, almost 300,000 women died of heart disease.
- In the U.S., heart disease is the leading cause of death for white in African-American women. For American Indian, Alaska Native, Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islander women, the most common causes of death are cancer and heart disease.
- For women age 20 or older, one in 16 of them have coronary heart disease, which is the most common type of cardiovascular disease. This applies to white, black and hispanic women. For Asian women, one in 30 are affected.
Heart Attack Statistics
Here are some statistics about heart attack prevalence in the U.S. and worldwide:
- The American Heart Association indicates that about every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a heart attack.
- The American College of Cardiology reported that the average age of heart attack symptoms in women is 72 years old.
- The World Health Organization states that there are over 32 million heart attacks and strokes worldwide every year.
- In America, over 800,000 people have a heart attack each year. Of those, 605,000 are a first heart attack and 200,000 happen to people who’ve already had a heart attack.
- Survivors of heart attacks are at an increased risk of recurrent infractions and have an annual death rate that’s six times higher than people who don’t have coronary heart disease.
Traditional vs. Nontraditional Causes
The CDC reports that about half of Americans with heart disease have at least one of the following three risk factors:
- high blood pressure
- high LDL cholesterol
In addition to these traditional risk factors, other causes of heart disease in women, particularly, include:
- complications during pregnancy, such as high blood pressure and gestational diabetes
- menopause, due to low levels of estrogen
- family history of heart conditions
Some non-traditional causes of heart disease in women include:
- emotional stress, depression and anxiety
- sedentary lifestyle
- inflammatory conditions, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis
- sleep deprivation
- exposure to toxic chemicals and environmental pollutants
- eating a poor diet, high in unhealthy fats and processed foods
- high alcohol consumption
One of the scary things about heart disease is that it can often be “silent” and go undiagnosed until you experience a health emergency, like a heart attack or heart failure. On top of that, women with heart disease commonly have symptoms when resting or sleeping, more so than men.
For those who do experience heart disease symptoms, they may include:
- pain or discomfort in the chest, jaw, neck, throat, upper abdomen, back, arms or shoulder
- weakness and fatigue
- shortness of breath
- cold sweats
- nausea and vomiting
The symptoms may vary depending on the type of heart disease. For instance, heart attack symptoms in women may include:
- chest pain, pressure and tightness
- pain and tightness that radiates from chest to neck, arms, shoulders or the jaw
- feeling of heaviness, like someone is squeezing your heart
- weakness and feeling lightheaded
- shortness of breath
- weak pulse
- excessive sweating
- nausea or vomiting
- cold, clammy skin
- gray skin tone or a severe appearance of illness
Symptoms of heart failure may include:
- extreme fatigue
- trouble breathing
- swelling of the neck veins, abdomen, legs, ankles and feet
A doctor will begin a diagnosis by performing a physical examination and asking about your personal and family medical history. Your doctor will test your lipid (cholesterol) profile, blood pressure and other markers of heart disease, like your C-reactive protein (CRP) that helps to detect atherosclerosis and homocysteine, which can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
You’ll take tests that measure your complete blood count, sodium and potassium levels, kidney function, fasting glucose, liver health and thyroid function.
You may also need a chest X-ray and other diagnostic tests, which may include a(n):
- stress test
- electrocardiogram (ECG)
- cardiac computerized tomography (CT) scan
- cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- holter monitoring (chest ultrasound)
- cardiac catheterization
- abdominal ultrasound
- event recorder
The conventional treatment for heart disease in women is commonly a combination of lifestyle changes and prescription medications.
The medications your healthcare professional prescribes will depend on what type of heart disease you’re dealing with and the severity of your symptoms. Medications may be used to treat high blood pressure or high LDL cholesterol.
In severe cases, angioplasty (unblocking blood vessels) and stent, or coronary bypass surgery, which diverts the flow of blood around a blocked artery.
Aspirin is commonly used as a preventive therapy for people with a history of heart attack, chest pain or ischemic stroke. Aspirin reduces prostaglandins, which are hormone-like substances that control inflammatory responses, blood flow and the formation of blood clots.
People taking aspirin every day to prevent heart disease episodes should consider whether or not aspirin side effects outweigh the potential benefits. This is something to discuss with your doctor and base on your heart disease severity.
Dietary and lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of heart disease significantly. Take these natural steps to minimize your risk of cardiovascular disease:
1. Maintain a healthy, balanced diet
Research shows that the typical Western diet leads to excessive production of pro-inflammatory cytokines that are associated with heart disease symptoms. It’s important to eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices, and wild fish. Limit your consumption of processed foods, unhealthy fats, added sugars and excessive sodium.
2. Use heart-healthy supplements
3. Exercise regularly
It’s widely accepted by doctors and researchers that regular exercise is beneficial for heart disease in women.
4. Reduce stress
Chronic stress will raise your cortisol levels and interfere with inflammatory responses in the body. Psychosocial stressors were found to be independent risk factors for the development of heart disease in women.
This implies that women, in particular, need to practice healthy behaviors that reduce stress naturally, such as mindfulness and meditation, yoga, spending times outdoors, cooking, spending time with loved ones and seeking support.
5. Get enough sleep
Research suggests that the cardiovascular consequences of inadequate sleep are substantial and significant. Getting 7–9 hours of sleep every night is important in preventing and improving heart disease symptoms.
6. Don’t smoke or vape
Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease and heart attack symptoms in women. According to research published in The American Journal of Medicine, smoking has been associated with a 70 percent excess rate of death from coronary heart disease and an elevated risk of sudden death.
Risks and Side Effects
If you are using natural approaches to prevent or treat heart disease, be sure to do so under the care of your doctor or healthcare professional.
If you notice heart attack symptoms or any signs of heart disease, such as chest tightness, extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, heartburn and indigestion, contact your healthcare professional immediately or call 911.
If you suspect that you’re having a heart attack, do not drive yourself to the hospital — chew and swallow an aspirin (if you’re not allergic) and call 911 or a local emergency number.
- Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death globally and in America, for both men and women.
- The symptoms of heart disease vary, depending on the type of condition, and some women don’t experience any symptoms at all until they are faced with an emergency situation.
- To protect yourself from heart disease, including heart attack symptoms, change your diet and lifestyle. Focus on eating a healthy, well-balanced, exercise regularly, reduce stress, get enough sleep and don’t smoke.