Heart Disease 101: Warning Signs for Women

February 4, 2021

As the number one killer of men and women in the U.S., you might think that gender doesn’t matter when it comes to heart disease. But it does. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in 16 women age 20 and older have coronary heart disease, while only approximately half of women recognize that heart disease is women’s number one killer. Additionally, women can sometimes experience heart attack symptoms differently from men.

The primary signs and symptoms for men and women are chest discomfort (uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain); discomfort in other areas of the upper body like one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach; shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort; and other signs like cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

As with men, the most common symptom for women is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely to experience some of the other common – and more subtle – symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, unusual fatigue, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain, sometimes without any obvious chest discomfort.

Particularly alarming is that it isn’t just heavy smokers, stressed out or overweight women who fall victim to heart attack. Otherwise healthy women can also suffer a heart attack. And it’s these women who often write the condition off as something else – the flu or an unusually stressful period in their life – delaying potentially life-saving care.

Talk with your primary care provider about your risk factors and the preventive care options that are right for you.