The term heart disease refers to several types of heart conditions, including coronary artery disease and heart attack.
Although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a man's disease, almost as many women as men die each year of heart disease in the United States.
How does heart disease affect women?
Despite increases in awareness over the past decades, only about half (56%) of women recognize that heart disease in their number one killer.
Learn more facts about women and heart disease:
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, killing 299,578 women in 2017 - or about one in ever five female deaths.
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death for African American and white women in the United States. Among Native Americans and Alaska Native women, heart disease and cancer cause roughly the same number of deaths each year. For Hispanic and Asian or Pacific Islander women, heart disease is second only to cancer as a cause of death.
- About one in 16 women age 20 and older (6.2%) have coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease:
- About one in 16 white women (6.1%), black women (6.5%), and Hispanic women (6%)
- About one in 30 Asian women (3.2%)
What are the symptoms of heart disease?
Although some women have no symptoms, others may have:
- Angina (dull and heavy or sharp chest pain or discomfort)
- Pain in the neck, jaw, or throat
- Pain in the upper abdomen or back
These symptoms may happen when you are resting or when you are doing regular daily activities. Women also may have other symptoms, including:
Sometimes heart disease may be "silent" and not diagnosed until you have other symptoms of emergencies, including:
- Heart attack: Chest pain or discomfort, upper back or neck pain, indigestion, heartburn, nausea or vomiting, extreme fatigue, upper body discomfort, dizziness, and shortness of breath
- Arrhythmia: Fluttering feelings in the chest (palpitations)
- Heart failure: Shortness of breath, fatigue, or swelling of the feet, ankles, abdomen, or neck veins
If you have any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 right away.
What are the risk factors for heart disease?
High blood pressure, high LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease. About half of all people in the United States (47%) have at least one of these three risk factors.
Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including:
- Having overweight or obesity
- Eating an unhealthy diet
- Physical inactivity
- Drinking too much alcohol
How can I reduce my risk of heart disease?
To lower your chances of getting heart disease, it's important to do the following:
- Know your blood pressure. Having uncontrolled blood pressure can lead to heart disease. High blood pressure has no symptoms, so it's important to have your blood pressure checked regularly.
- Talk to your doctor or heart care team about whether you should be tested for diabetes. Having uncontrolled diabetes raises your risk of heart disease.
- Quit smoking. If you don't smoke, don't start. If you do smoke, learn ways to quit.
- Discuss checking your blood cholesterol and triglycerides with your doctor.
- Make healthy food choices. Having overweight or obesity raises your risk of heart disease.
- Limit how much alcohol you drink to one drink a day.
- Manage stress levels by finding healthy ways to cope with stress.
For more information on women and heart disease, visit the following websites:
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office on Women's Health (OWH)
- American Heart Association
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
- Mosca L, Hammond G, Mochari-Greenberger H, Towfighi A, Albert MA, American Heart Association Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke in Women and Special Populations Committee of the Council on Clinical Cardiology, Council on Epidemiology and Prevention, Council on Cardiovascular Nursing, Council on High Blood Pressure Research, and Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism. Fifteen-year trends in awareness of heart disease in women: Results of a 2012 American Heart Association national survey. Circulation. 2013;127(11):1254–63, e1–29.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2017 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released December 2018. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999-2017, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed on Feb. 18, 2019.
- Heron M. Deaths: Leading causes for 2016. National Vital Statistics Reports. 2018;67(6).
- Benjamin EJ, Muntner P, Alonso A, Bittencourt MS, Callaway CW, Carson AP, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2019 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2019;139:e1–e473.
- NHLBI. Heart Disease in Women. Accessed October 2, 2018.
- Fryar CD, Chen T, Li X. Prevalence of uncontrolled risk factors for cardiovascular disease: United States, 1999–2010. NCHS data brief, no 103. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics; 2012.
- HHS, OWH. Heart disease prevention. 2015. Accessed October 2, 2018.
- HHS, OWH. Diabetes. Accessed October 2, 2018.
Content last updated January 31, 2020