5 Ways Cardiovascular Disease Is Different for Women

Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women, and obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. In fact, cardiovascular disease—which includes heart disease and stroke--kills more women every year than all forms of cancer combined.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), one out of every three women dies of heart disease and stroke. Yet a significant percentage of women still fail to recognize this. Learn more so you don’t miss the warning signs.

Women Are More Likely to Have Vague Symptoms

Cardiologist with heart
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Like men, women are likely to have chest discomfort as their most common presenting symptom of a heart attack or coronary heart disease.

But women are more likely than men to have other, vague symptoms that may be hard to recognize as being associated with heart disease.

These other symptoms can include shortness of breath, intense fatigue, nausea, jaw pain and pain in the upper back.

Women Are More Likely to Die from Cardiovascular Disease

'Life' written with heart rate graph
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Since 1984, the number of women dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD)—which includes heart disease and stroke—has exceeded the number of men dying from CVD.

It is estimated that approximately 6.6 million females alive today in the United States have coronary heart disease. Of these, 2.6 million have had a heart attack.

For those who have a heart attack, the statistics are not good. Twenty-six percent of women age 45 and older who have their first recognized heart attack die within a year, compared with 19% of men.

Women Are More Likely to Have a Heart Attack at an Older Age

Senior with Chest Pain
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Partly because women have heart attacks at older ages than men do (approximately 10 years later), they are more likely to die from them within a few weeks. And strikingly, 64% of women who died suddenly from coronary heart disease had no previous identifiable symptoms. This makes prevention all the more important.

Women Are More Likely to Have a Stroke

Cerebrovascular Accident
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As mentioned above, stroke is a form of cardiovascular disease, and the AHA notes that women have a higher lifetime risk of stroke than men. Furthermore, women are more likely to die from a stroke than are men.

According to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, each year approximately 55,000 more women than men have a stroke. As noted above, this is because women have a greater average life expectancy than men do, and stroke occurs most often in the oldest age ranges.

Women Are More Vulnerable to a Stress-Induced Form of Heart Disease

Studio Shot of female's hands holding broken heart
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Known medically as taiko tsubo cardiomyopathy, this has also been called “broken-heart syndrome,” and it describes a heart condition that appears very much like a heart attack, but is caused by extreme emotional or physical stress rather than by disease in the coronary arteries themselves.

First described in Japan in 1990, according to Harvard Health Publications, “more than 90% of reported cases are in women ages 58 to 75.”

Fortunately, the majority of cases of the broken-heart syndrome are reversible and temporary, with most patients recovering quickly and with no permanent damage to the heart. However, it does appear that women are more susceptible to this syndrome, and thus, as with all cardiovascular disease, awareness is extremely important.


Morell K. Hard-to-recognize heart attack symptoms. Accessed online at https://www.goredforwomen.org/about-heart-disease/symptoms_of_heart_disease_in_women/hard-to-recognize-heart-attack-symptoms/ on February 4, 2015.

American Heart Association. Statistical Fact Sheet: Women & Cardiovascular Diseases. Accessed online at https://my.americanheart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@sop/@smd/documents/downloadable/ucm_319576.pdf on February 4, 2015.

Harvard Women’s Health Watch. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy (broken-heart syndrome). Harvard Health Publications. Accessible online at http://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/takotsubo-cardiomyopathy-broken-heart-syndrome

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