Women and Heart Disease

By Nicki Goben, MS, RD, CDN

We’ve all seen that dramatic scene of a man in a movie suffering from a heart attack clutching his arm or chest and falling to the floor. However, we rarely see such a scene involving women. But did you know that heart disease is the number one killer of women? One in four females in the United States dies of heart disease. There are numerous misconceptions about heart disease in women that could be leading to your increased risk. Below we’ll cover some vital information on heart disease risk factors, tips for decreasing your risk for disease, and heart attack warning signs in women.

What is heart disease?

Heart disease includes numerous problems, which are related to a process called atherosclerosis (when plaque builds up on the walls of arteries). This process narrows arteries, which makes blood flow more difficult and increases risk for a blood clot, which can cause heart attack or stroke.

What are the risk factors for heart disease?

Having one or more risk factors dramatically increases a woman’s chance of developing heart disease. There are some risk factors that you can’t control, however, many you can (these are the modifiable risk factors listed below).


  • Age (55 or older for women)
  • Having a family history of heart disease
  • Having a history of preeclampsia during pregnancy
  • Previous stroke or heart attack


  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes and prediabetes
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Being physically inactive
  • Unhealthy diet

Find out your personal risk for heart disease by talking to your health care provider. You should have a good idea of where your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose and Body Mass Index (BMI) fall into recommended guidelines. In order to reduce your risk factors, try to focus on eating a healthy diet, being physical active (aim for 30 minutes each day) and quitting smoking.

What are heart attack warning signs in women?

 In women, warning signs may be less obvious than in men. Review the signs below, pay attention to your body, and always call for help if anything appears unusual.

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, or pain in the center of your chest. It may last for more than a few minutes or go away and come back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. There may or may not be chest discomfort.
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
  • Similar to men, a woman’s most common symptom is chest pain or discomfort. However, women are more likely than men to experience other symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or neck pain.

If you have any of these signs, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital right away.

Join us in kicking off February, American Heart Month, by participating in National Wear Red Day® on Friday, February 3. Support the cause by wearing red to raise awareness for heart disease in women and use the information here to share the facts!


National Wear Red Day® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and American Heart Association.”