What Causes Heart Disease in Women and How Can We Prevent It?

Health and Wellness | Health Tips

Woman holds felt heart shape up to her chest where her heart is located

What You Didn’t Know About Women and Heart Disease

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in women in America with stroke being the third. An estimated one in four women will die from some form of heart disease. (1) Despite this fact, women are more concerned about getting breast cancer, yet heart disease kills six times as many women every year. Actually, did you know – heart disease claims the lives of more than 400,000 women every single year… That’s about one per minute. The good news is that you have the power to dramatically reduce your risk by taking charge of your health and your diet, understand the causes of heart disease in women, and taking note of my top 5 steps to prevent heart disease.

An estimated one in four women will die from some form of heart disease

May is Women’s Health Month so there is no better time to discuss how we can help women minimize the risk of heart disease, stroke and other diseases that can be prevented or managed with a healthy lifestyle.

Women bring children into the world, typically hold multiple responsibilities like juggling a career, family, and education amongst many other things. Oftentimes women are so busy taking care of everyone else that their own well-being and health tends to fall last. Let’s make women’s health, and particularly their heart health, a number one priority!

A person's hands cradle a foam heart

What are the Risk Factors and Causes of Heart Disease In Women?

Some risk factors for heart disease can’t be controlled, but many of them can be kept in check with diet, movement, medications (if needed), and a healthy lifestyle.

The most common risk factors for women include:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • A Sedentary Lifestyle
  • Being Overweight
  • A Family History of Heart Attacks or Heart Disease
  • Age (the Older You Are, the Higher the Risk)
  • Cigarette Smoking

Differences Between Men and Women

Women are different from men when it comes to heart disease. For example, a woman’s symptoms are different from a man’s and she’s more likely to die within a year of having a heart attack. Women also typically don’t do well with certain clot-busting drugs and heart-related medical procedures. (2) Heart disease may start in childhood and develop silently over time and arrive without warning as a heart attack that can often be deadly.

Women are different from men when it comes to heart disease.

A woman holds a realistic heart model in front of her chest, representing heart disease and care

A Close Look at Heart Disease Causes

Blood Lipids: Before hitting menopause a woman’s estrogen helps protect her from heart disease by increasing HDL (good) cholesterol and decreasing (LDL), bad cholesterol. Elevated triglycerides (the storage form of fat) and low HDL increases the risk of death from heart disease in women over age 65.

Diabetes: It is also important to note that if you have type 2 diabetes, you probably also have underlying cardiovascular disease. Although women develop heart disease about 10 years later than men, diabetes erases the advantage.

Metabolic Syndrome: This is a group of health risks – large waist size, elevated blood pressure, elevated blood sugars, low HDL cholesterol and high triglycerides – that increase your chances of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Smoking: Women who smoke are more likely to have a heart attack than male smokers.

A heart-shaped bowl sits on a table filled with berries, fruits, and vegetables

What Can Women Do to Help Prevent Heart Disease?

  1. Don’t Smoke, actively or passively. Your chance of having a heart attack doubles if you smoke between 1-4 cigarettes per day. Regular exposure to passive smoke also increases your risk.
  2. Get Moving! Shoot for at least 30 minutes per day of moderate-intensity exercise, like a brisk walk on most days. Try to be active passively: take the stairs, do yard work, play with your kids outside.
  3. Eat for Your Heart! Foods that can make a significant impact on heart health are fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and healthy monounsaturated fats. Oh, and don’t forget your fish (wild salmon is a great choice) and limit trans fats. If you’d like more tips on nutrition, check out the rest of my blog – it’s what I do.
  4. Reduce Stress and Manage Depression. Stress and depression have a significant impact on your heart. Your risk for heart disease increases depending on how stressed out and depressed you are! Make it a point to sleep well, and to incorporate exercise and relaxation techniques into your life.
  5. Aim for the right numbers! Try to shoot for good blood pressure and cholesterol numbers. This will help your heart!

A stethoscope and wooden heart sit next to a paper silhouette cut-out of women of all shapes and sizes holding hands

In Conclusion…

Losing even one woman to cardiovascular disease is one too many. Remember: Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year. Let’s turn that number around. Let’s make it a priority to take care of our mothers, our sisters, our siblings, and our friends. Let’s draw awareness to the causes of heart disease in women and the importance of taking care of our hearts so we can be present to take care of the hearts of others. Women’s health is important. Care enough to take care of yourself ❤️

Voula Manousos’ writing is featured in the “Winchester Living Magazine” and “The Winchester Star” of Wicked Local.

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