Cardiovascular Disease in Women

Cardiovascular Disease in Women

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - By Colleen Johnson, MD

Assistant Professor of Medicine, Tulane Heart and Vascular Institute

Director of Electrophysiology, Tulane Medical Center

Co-Director of Electrophysiology, University Medical Center

More women die each year from cardiovascular disease than men. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women, killing more women per year than all cancers combined. Although heart disease death rates among men have declined steadily over the last 25 years, rates among women have fallen at a slower rate. In fact, the only group in which cardiovascular disease is still growing is women less than 45 years of age.

Ischemic heart disease is the number one cause of cardiovascular death in women. Ischemic heart disease is the term given to heart problems caused by narrowed heart arteries. When arteries are narrowed, less blood and oxygen reaches the heart muscle. This is also called coronary artery disease and coronary heart disease. This can ultimately lead to heart attack. A heart attack  occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely. This happens because the arteries that supply the heart with blood can slowly narrow from a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances (plaque). Younger women are twice as likely to die of a heart attack as younger men. Women present with symptoms that are different from men, have different responses to risk factors than men, are less likely to be diagnosed than men and are less likely to be treated for heart disease than men.

Women often do not recognize the signs of a heart attack. For many women, the symptoms of a heart attack appear to be less life-threatening conditions like acid reflux, the flu or normal aging. Symptoms are more likely to be triggered by emotional stress and are more likely to occur when resting or sleeping in women. Women often wait longer than one day to seek care and report that healthcare professionals do not think symptoms were related to the heart.

Heart Attack Signs in Women:

Pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach

Pressure or pain in the center of the chest

Shortness of breath

Nausea, vomiting, heartburn

Cold sweats

Lightheadedness, extreme fatigue

Palpitations or fast heart beats

Women typically put caring for others ahead of their own health. It is important for all women to monitor their heart health and be aware of the signs of a heart attack. If you or a woman you love presents these signs, contact 9-1-1 and go to the hospital immediately.

To make an appointment with a cardiovascular physician with the Tulane University Heart and Vascular Institute, please visit:

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