Masked female doctor checking patient's heart

A Woman's Heart

February 24, 2022

Each year, around 1 in 3 deaths among women are the result of heart disease and stroke - more than all cancers combined. Even with increased education and awareness, only around half (56%) of women recognize heart disease as their leading cause of death. Fortunately, a majority of heart disease can be prevented.

Risk Factors

Two out of three women have risk factors for heart disease. These risk factors can accelerate as women age and approach menopause, making an increased focus on heart health crucial during this pivotal life stage.

Common risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. Diabetes, obesity, drinking too much alcohol, and living an inactive and unhealthy lifestyle also increase the risk of heart disease. Unique to women, pregnancy complications can also pose a threat to heart health.

"Women have some exclusive risk factors that men do not have," Lee Joseph, MD, Director of the Women's Heart Center and Demoulas Chair for Women's Health, noted. "Women with pregnancy complications are at higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease later in life."

Intense stress, particularly emotional stress, may also cause a woman's heart to fail. This disease is called broken heart syndrome.


Warning signs for heart disease in women are not the same as they are in men.

"Women may not experience the classic Hollywood depiction of a heart attack with the actor clutching his chest and kneeling over," Dr. Joseph explained. "Women may have more non-specific symptoms like nausea, pain between their shoulder blades, or arm discomfort. Do not discount these symptoms."

Primary symptoms for heart disease in women include:

  • Pain or discomfort in the chest

  • Feeling cold and sweaty

  • Pain in the neck, left arm, both arms, jaw, or back

  • Nausea, vomiting, indigestion, or heart burn

  • Trouble breathing or feeling short of breath

  • Feeling dizzy, lightheaded or fainting

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Flu-like symptoms

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, call 911 or seek medical attention immediately.


The good news is, heart disease can be prevented by making changes to your daily routine.

"Most cardiac and stroke events can be prevented through education and lifestyle changes, such as moving more, eating smart, and managing blood pressure," Dr. Joseph said.

Prioritize your heart health by committing to eating healthy, exercising regularly, maintaining your bodyweight, not smoking, and following up with your doctor. By maintaining your blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood cholesterol numbers in the recommended ranges, we can prevent heart disease.

Learn more about how LHMC is supporting women's heart health at the Women's Heart Center.