Women's Health Matters

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Sex Differences & Heart Disease

Women have been greatly under-represented in medical research related to cardiovascular disease, which has had an impact on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease in women. It is only recently that cardiovascular disease has been recognized as a leading cause of death among women and that the symptoms, experiences and treatment needs that are unique to women have been identified.

Women Tend to Develop Heart Disease at a Later Age

Women tend to develop heart disease later in life because they are often (though not always) protected by high levels of estrogen until after menopause. Men's risk of developing heart disease increases in their 40s. A woman's risk of heart disease becomes similar to a man's risk about 10 years after menopause.

Women Experience More Silent Heart Attacks

Women experience more silent heart attacks than men. That is, a woman may not know she has had a heart attack. Women are also more likely to have a single artery narrow whereas men tend to have multiple arteries narrow.

Women Are More Likely to Be Suffering from Other Health Problems

Women are more likely to be suffering from other health problems, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, when they have heart problems.

Women Do Not Always Get the Health Care They Need

Heart disease is under-detected in women. Once women do seek treatment, doctors do not always recognize their symptoms as the symptoms of heart disease. Women are also less likely to be referred to a heart specialist, to be hospitalized, to be prescribed medication or other treatment, or to be referred for exercise testing. As a result, women do not always get the health care they need.

Know the Early Warning Signs of Heart Disease and Heart Attacks in Women

  • vague discomfort in the chest that doesn't go away with rest
  • sudden, severe and crushing chest discomfort that may move to other parts of the body
  • heaviness, pressure, squeezing, fullness, burning, tightness or other discomfort in the chest, shoulder, arm, neck, back or jaw, that doesn't go away
  • shortness of breath or unusual fatigue
  • unusual pain spreading down one or both arms
  • difficulty carrying out activities that used to be easy
  • paleness, sweating and/or weakness
  • nausea, vomiting and/or indigestion
  • feelings of extreme anxiety or fear

If you experience any of these symptoms, tell someone immediately, and call 911 or the emergency number in your area. Never try to drive yourself to the hospital.

Know the Early Warning Signs of Stroke

Weakness – sudden loss of strength or sudden numbness in the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body (sometimes temporary)

Trouble speaking – sudden difficulty speaking or understanding, slurred speech, or sudden confusion (can be temporary)

Vision problems – sudden trouble with vision in one or both eyes (can be temporary)

Headache – sudden severe and unusual headache

Dizziness – sudden loss of balance or trouble walking, especially with any of the above signs

If you experience any of these symptoms, tell someone immediately, and call 911 or the emergency number in your area. Never try to drive yourself to the hospital.


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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital