At the Heart of the Matter: Women and Cardiovascular Disease


Startling Statistics:

  • Cardiovascular disease is the #1 killer of women in the United States, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year.
  • Approximately 1 woman dies every minute from heart disease.
  • Two out of three women who die from heart attacks never experienced chest pain prior to that heart attack.
  • While men are more likely than women to experience a heart attack, women who do have heart attacks are more likely to die from them.

In honor of American Heart Month, I interviewed a female heart attack survivor. Thank you to this client for her willingness to share her story.

Q: Can you describe for me the events surrounding your heart attack and what symptoms you experienced?

A: I was at work when it happened. All of a sudden I had tremendous pressure around my chest. It felt like someone was squeezing me.


Q: Did you have any previous history of cardiac issues or any family history of heart disease?

A: I did not have any previous issues, but both my parents had heart disease.  My father had open heart surgery and a valve was replaced.


Q: What were your aftercare requirements? Any surgery or medication?

A: I was put on blood pressure and cholesterol medication.  I still take it today and will have to for the rest of my like.  It is for preventive measures.


Q: What self-care measures or habit changes did you make following your heart attack?

A: Since I was already walking 3-4 times a week, I did try to improve on that.  I also incorporated more fish in my diet and cut out some of the fat.


Q: What would you want other women to know about heart health or your experience that might help them?

A; Women have different types of pain than men.  We all need to continue eating healthy.  Incorporate as many vegetables as you can and also high fiber foods.   Even though I had bariatric surgery in 2004 and was at my goal weight, I was not taking as much care of myself as I should have.


In doing my research for this blog, I discovered that one reason women have lower heart attack survival rates is that many women may not recognize lesser-known heart attack symptoms such as fatigue, nausea and dizziness. Researchers have also found that women tend to downplay or ignore heart attack symptoms which causes them to delay seeking treatment.

If you are a woman, it is important to know your risk and the status of your heart health, even if you have never experienced any symptoms of heart disease. Coronary calcium scoring (also known as a Heart Score test) is a heart scan that can detect coronary artery disease in patients who do not have symptoms and is recommended for those with a family history of heart disease. For more information about this locally, please see

The good news is that 80% of cardiac events can be prevented! Aside from the typical suggestions about maintaining proper nutrition and regular exercise, not smoking, getting adequate sleep, and keeping your blood pressure in check, there are social and emotional ways to increase your heart health.

Research has long suggested that regular social interaction and social connectedness play an important role in not just overall health, but heart health as well. One theory explaining this effect is that spending time with friends and family lowers stress and fends off depression—both of which are risk factors for heart disease.

Other studies have found that laughing can protect heart health, as it causes blood vessels to relax and expand—again, pointing to the health benefits of spending time with close friends. A psychiatrist at Stanford University School of Medicine actually began studying the effects of laughter on the cardiovascular system four decades ago, hypothesizing that brain chemicals released during laughter (called endorphins) latch onto opiate receptors in the lining of blood vessels. This interaction stimulates blood vessels to release nitric oxide which is known to relax arteries. Relaxed arteries are more flexible and wider, permitting easier blood flow.

For more information about Women’s Heart Health, a good resource is the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women initiative.

Locally, the Cape Fear chapter of the AHA is hosting a virtual heart ball next week as well as a silent auction to raise funds.

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