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BEACON Senior News

Heart disease is often subtle in women

Jan 29, 2024 10:11AM ● By Kimberly Blaker

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women in the U.S., and accounts for 20% of female deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Coronary artery disease, also known as coronary heart disease or atherosclerosis, is the most common type of heart disease. More than 6% of women over the age of 19 are afflicted by it, which can lead to a heart attack or heart failure.

Heart conditions for which women are at higher risk than men include cardiac syndrome X, angina (chest pain) and broken heart syndrome (stress-induced cardiomyopathy). Women can also be affected by several other heart conditions, including heart failure, heart valve disease, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and atrial fibrillation (Afib).

Several risk factors for heart disease cannot be modified. Family history, race, gender, menopause and age all play a role. Still, many risk factors can be changed, according to the Cleveland Clinic. 

To reduce your risk for disease:

  • Quit smoking
  • Lower your total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides
  • Increase your HDL (good) cholesterol
  • Reduce high blood pressure
  • Keep diabetes under control
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Eat heart-healthy foods
  • Exercise regularly
  • Reduce your stress

An alcoholic drink a day may benefit your heart by increasing your HDL cholesterol. But medical experts caution against more than one per day. Although some studies suggest alcohol may be beneficial in moderation, others have shown the opposite. 

Women can experience all the same heart attack symptoms as men. Often, however, women experience them differently. 

Most notably, women don’t always experience crushing chest pain. Instead, they may feel tightness or pressure in their chest. As a result, symptoms can go unnoticed. If the pain or discomfort goes away and then comes back or lasts for more than a few minutes, it could be a symptom. 

Other symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain, discomfort, weakness or heaviness in either arm
  • Discomfort in the neck, jaw, upper back, shoulders or stomach
  • Indigestion, nausea or vomiting
  • Cold sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness


Call 911 and get to the hospital as quickly as possible. If you’re in a public place, a defibrillator may be available, which could save your life.

Finally, take an aspirin, said Anthony Komaroff, MD. He recommends a standard dose of 325 mg that isn’t coated. 

“Chew it, and then swallow it with a glass of water,” said Komaroff, to quickly get it into your system. This can slow blood clotting and limit damage to your heart.