Heart disease isn’t just a concern for men, it’s a critical health issue for women, too. Here are some surprising facts relating to women and their hearts.
- Globally, coronary heart disease (CAD) is the leading cause of death among women.
- A woman’s heart is typically smaller and weighs less than a man’s - it also pumps around 10% less blood per heartbeat.
- At 78-82 beats per minute, the average female heart rate is faster than the male average of 70-72 beats.
- Stress affects the male and female heart differently. A stressful situation causes a woman’s pulse rate to rise and her heart to pump more blood, whereas a man's blood pressure increases due to constriction of the arteries in his heart.
- Women tend to develop heart disease later in life than men - the average age for heart attacks in women is 70, whilst it’s 66 in men.
- The risk of heart disease increases after menopause, this may be due to the effect of decreasing natural estrogen levels.
- Endometriosis, polycystic ovary disease and pregnancy-related diabetes or complications, like preeclampsia, increase the risk of coronary artery disease.
- Like men, women can experience classic symptoms such as chest pain when experiencing a heart attack however, other symptoms differ in women and can be more subtle, these can include:
- New or dramatic fatigue
- Shortness of breath or sweating
- Pain in the neck, back, stomach or jaw
- Sharp or burning chest pain that comes and goes
These symptoms may begin 3-4 weeks before an attack.
- Coronary artery disease can be more difficult to diagnose in women as it often affects the smaller arteries. An angiogram test reveals blockages and narrowing of the heart’s arteries – however, it does not always show smaller vessels clearly. If a woman’s symptoms persist after an ‘all-clear’ angiogram result, it’s important to see a cardiologist who specializes in heart disease in women.
- Women are more likely than men to develop broken heart syndrome, also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy - a temporary heart condition that can be caused by stressful events.