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Women and Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women, even ahead of breast cancer. About one out of seven women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, but one of every two women will die of heart disease.

Despite this, many people do not understand how heart disease affects women. While the risk factors are the same, the symptoms of a heart attack in women are sometimes different than in men.

Some women think heart disease is just a man's disease, but the risk factors are the same for men and women. Heart disease can develop over many years without symptoms. And when women have heart attacks, they often have other symptoms besides chest pain.

If you don't have heart disease, there are ways to prevent it. If you already have heart disease, there are ways to keep it from getting worse.

Signs of a Heart Attack


Differences Between Men and Women

Approximately 500,000 women die of heart disease each year in the United States. More than twice the number of women die from cardiovascular disease than from all types of cancer, including breast cancer. In fact, the number of deaths from heart disease is more than 10 times higher than from breast cancer. Despite this, many people do not understand how heart disease affects women. The symptoms of a heart attack in women are sometimes different than in men. This chart highlights these differences.

Symptom Men Women
Chest Pain Discomfort in center of chest, often described as "crushing." Pain may be mild or absent, often described as "pressure," "dullness" or "ache."
Shortness of breath May occur at the same time or before chest pain May occur at the same time or before chest pain.
More common in women.
Sweating May break into a sweat with cold, clammy skin.
More common in men.
May break into a sweat with cold, clammy skin.
Throat, neck, back or jaw pain Discomfort may be felt in other areas of the upper body. Discomfort may be felt in other areas of the upper body.
More common in women.
Nausea, vomiting or indigestion May feel nauseated and vomit. May feel nauseated and vomit.
Much more common in women.
Anxiety May feel a sense of doom. Heart disease in women may be mistaken for a panic attack with shortness of breath, anxiety and indigestion.
Fatigue Fatigue less common in men. Many women report sudden onset of unusual fatigue, as their only warning sign of a heart attack.



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