UAB Medicine News


Women’s Heart Health: What You Need to Know

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Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. The following data provide important information women should know about heart disease.

By the Numbers

  • Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for women in the United States, killing 299,578 women in 2017. That’s about 1 in every 5 female deaths.
  • About 1 in 16 women age 20 and older have coronary heart disease, which is the most common type of heart disease.
  • Despite increases in awareness over the past decades, surveys indicate that just over half (56%) of women in the U.S. recognize that heart disease is their leading cause of death.
  • About 90% of women have one or more risk factors for heart disease at some point in their lives, according to the American Heart Association. Yet 80% of cardiovascular diseases are preventable through lifestyle changes, education, and proper medical care.
  • Almost two-thirds of women who die suddenly of heart disease have no previous symptoms.

Know the Symptoms

Women's heart attack symptoms may cover a wider variety of physical events compared with symptoms in men. Although some women have no symptoms, others may have:

  • Angina (dull and heavy or sharp chest pain or discomfort)
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, or throat
  • Pain in the upper abdomen or back

These symptoms may happen when you are resting or when you are doing regular daily activities. Sometimes heart disease may be “silent” and not diagnosed until other symptoms or emergencies happen, including:

  • Heart attack: Chest pain or discomfort, upper back or neck pain, indigestion, heartburn, nausea or vomiting, extreme fatigue, upper body discomfort, dizziness, and shortness of breath
  • Arrhythmia: Fluttering feelings in the chest (palpitations)
  • Heart failure: Shortness of breath, fatigue, or swelling of the feet, ankles, legs, abdomen, or neck veins

If you have any of the above symptoms, call 911 immediately.

Risk Factors

High blood pressure, high LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease. About half of all people in the United States (47%) have at least one of these three risk factors.

Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices also can put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Drinking too much alcohol

Reducing the Risks

To lower their chances of getting heart disease, women should do the following:

  • Know your blood pressure. Uncontrolled blood pressure can lead to heart disease. High blood pressure has no symptoms, so it’s important to have it checked regularly.
  • Talk to your doctor or health care team about whether you should be tested for diabetes. Uncontrolled diabetes raises your risk of heart disease.
  • Quit smoking. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, learn ways to quit.
  • Discuss checking your blood cholesterol and triglycerides with your doctor.
  • Make healthy food choices. Obesity increases your risk of heart disease.
  • Limit alcohol to one drink a day.
  • Manage stress levels by finding healthy ways to cope with stress.

In an effort to curb heart disease and stroke in women, the UAB Medicine Division of Cardiovascular Disease created the Women’s Heart Health Clinic at The Kirklin Clinic of UAB Hospital. Women have unique risk factors and symptoms, so they may benefit from cardiac care designed to address their particular needs. Learn more here.