Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women. But only a little over 50% of women realize this. In fact, heart disease accounts for approximately one in five deaths for women, and research suggests that women typically don’t recover as well from a heart attack as men.
Women have different risk factors and there are biological differences between how a heart of a man works and a heart of a woman works. That makes a big difference in how heart disease presents itself in women, which is why it’s traditionally been more difficult to diagnose.
How women’s hearts work differently
If you looked at a man’s heart and a woman’s heart side by side, you would likely think that they look pretty much the same. However, there are differences that impact the risk of heart and vascular issues.
For example, men’s hearts and arteries are larger than women’s hearts. Because of this, women’s arteries and vessels are more prone to blockages and blood clots. Additionally, plaque accumulates differently in the arteries of men and women. For men, it’s often harder and it affects the three arteries of the heart. In women, it’s typically softer and more likely to break free to possibly trigger a heart attack.
Here are some of the other differences:
- The walls that divide some of the heart’s interior chambers are typically thinner in women’s hearts.
- Women’s hearts pump faster than men’s while sending out approximately 10% less blood with every pump.
- Stress increases a woman’s heart rate and forces her heart to pump out more blood. Stress causes a man’s arteries to constrict, which raises his blood pressure.
- Women’s hearts are protected by the hormone estrogen. That’s why the risk of heart disease typically stays lower in women until they reach menopause.
Signs of heart problems in women
Chest pain is the most common sign of heart problems in men and women alike. But many women experience different symptoms, with some never having any chest pain at all.
This is why it’s so important to know the signs of heart and vascular problems that women may have. They include:
- Back pain or pain between the shoulder blades
- Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
- Indigestion, nausea or vomiting
- Pain in the jaw or neck
- Pale, clammy skin
- Pressure or pain in the upper part of the stomach or lower chest area
- Sharp pain in the upper part of the body
- Shortness of breath
Tips for women’s heart and vascular health
Getting an annual checkup is one of the most important things women can do to support their own heart health.
Your provider will work with you to monitor risk factors and keep an eye on important numbers like blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Left untreated, any of these issues can increase your risk of heart disease.
Smoking, drinking and eating unhealthy foods can also put you at a higher risk. Use these additional tips to reduce your risk and support your heart health:
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. Try to fill your plate with lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Limit sodium and cut back on sugar.
- Manage health conditions. Staying on top of your conditions can lower your risk, as can taking medications according to your doctor’s instructions.
- Reduce stress. Chronic stress can increase the odds of you engaging in behaviors that up your risk for heart disease.
- Get plenty of sleep. Research shows that getting less than six to seven hours nightly can increase blood pressure and raise your risk of heart disease.
Want to learn more about your heart health? Take our free, online heart risk assessment today.