9 Surprising Facts about Heart Disease in Women

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the Philippines. In 2020, it took the lives of over 95,000 Filipinas.  Yet it’s not on most women’s radar. In a recent survey, only 13% of women realized that heart disease is their greatest health risk.

This article will discuss some surprising facts about cardiovascular disease, along with simple, healthy changes that may save your life.

Facts about Women’s Heart Health

#1. Many women do not have classic heart attack symptoms. During a heart attack, up to 40% of women do not experience chest pain. Compared with men, they experience a broader range of symptoms, such as indigestion, fatigue, and abdominal pain.

#2. You can have a heart attack and not know it. An estimated 50% of heart attacks are silent, meaning the person doesn’t realize they are having one. They may attribute their symptoms to a pulled muscle, anxiety, or some other cause. However, every heart attack deprives the heart of oxygen and causes damage. Silent heart attacks are more common in women.

#3. Women receive help for heart attacks later than men. In a survey of hospitals, women with heart attack symptoms were not treated with the same urgency as men. They spent more time waiting and were less likely to receive standard tests and heart medications.  

	 A woman draws her hands to her chest in pain.
Up to 40% of women do not experience chest pain during a heart attack.

#4. More women die of cardiovascular disease than cancer.  Cardiovascular disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined. In 2020, almost three times as many Filipinas died from heart disease than cancer.

#5. Most heart research is based on men. Only 35 percent of participants in clinical trials of heart disease are women. And the majority of these studies do not filter the results by gender. The outcome? Most of our ideas about cardiovascular disease in women come from studying it in men. The gender gap in research means we may be missing key information about heart health in women.

#6. High blood pressure during pregnancy predicts future heart disease. Preeclampsia is a sudden rise in blood pressure during pregnancy. Recent studies suggest it may predict future heart problems. If you had preeclampsia, you are twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease. You are also 4-times as likely to suffer heart failure in the future. The American Heart Association recommends routine heart screenings for life for these women.

A pregnant woman monitors her blood pressure.
Preeclampsia has been linked to future heart disease.

#7. Heart attacks can occur at any age. In a study of 28,000 heart attack victims, 30% were between the ages of 35 to 54. Young women with risk factors should consider regular heart health screenings.

#8. Insomnia has been linked to cardiovascular disease. A 2017 study found that women who slept 5 hours or fewer each night had a 32% increased risk of heart disease. Getting at least 7 hours a night may help protect your heart.

#9. Mental health affects heart health. Depression and anxiety can result in increased heart rate, higher blood pressure, and reduced blood flow to the heart. Over time, these physiological effects can lead to heart disease.

How to control your risk for heart disease

At some point in their lives, 90% of women will have one or more risk factors for heart disease. According to Harvard Health, “Heart disease may start in childhood, develop silently over time, and arrive without warning as a heart attack, often a deadly one.”

This means women shouldn’t wait for symptoms to appear before taking steps to protect their hearts. Let’s drill down into some common risk factors that women can control.

Steps to reduce the risk of heart disease

  • Regular heart screenings. According to the American Heart Association, routinely screening your blood pressure, biomarkers, and cholesterol levels can reduce the risk significantly. Once high cholesterol or blood pressure is diagnosed, it can be managed with medication or lifestyle changes.
A middle aged woman has her blood drawn
A complete heart screening can help assess your risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack.
  • Know the symptoms. During a heart attack, every minute counts. But on average, women wait 15 minutes longer than men to seek medical attention. This may be because women aren’t aware of the wide range of heart attack symptoms they may experience. You can memorize the signs or post them within easy view.
  • Take care of mental health. When someone has depression or anxiety, they should have regular heart screenings. Women may also consider discussing their feelings with a mental health professional.
  • Don't smoke, actively or passively. It only takes 1-4 cigarettes per day to increase your risk of dying from heart disease. Even if you don't smoke, regularly breathing in someone else’s smoke increases your risk.
  • Be active every day. Studies show that people who exercise regularly are less likely to develop heart disease. Being active also lowers your risk of developing other health problems that can damage your heart, like chronic inflammation and diabetes. Cardiologists recommend at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet. According to Harvard Medical School, a heart-healthy diet includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and lean meats. These foods ensure you’re getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs while avoiding foods that take a toll on the heart. Try to steer clear of fried foods, processed foods, and sugar.  
A woman holds a heart figure in her hands.
Heart disease is often preventable. You can take steps today to protect your heart

Preventing heart disease in women

Heart disease is a serious, life-threatening condition–but it’s often preventable. You can protect your heart by knowing the symptoms unique to women, and taking a proactive approach to health. Regular heart screenings, managing mental health, plus a healthy lifestyle and diet could add years to your life.

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