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Women are at risk of heart disease just like men. Here’s what you can do to lower your risk.

Heart disease has long been thought of as a man’s disease. But this disease does not discriminate on the basis of sex and is also the most serious disease that women in the U.S. face. In fact, heart disease is the number one cause of death in both men and women. But the good news is that it is also very preventable. Knowing you are at risk of developing heart disease and taking steps to keep your heart healthier is one of the best things you can do for your health.

Here are some of the most common cardiovascular conditions affecting women:

  • Coronary artery disease. This disease causes plaque to form in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to your heart, as well as other parts of your body, including your brain. This can lead to serious complications such as heart attack or stroke. Women are at a higher risk of coronary artery disease after menopause due to hormonal changes.
  • Heart failure. This occurs when your heart becomes weakened, causing it to lose its ability to pump enough blood to support organs and tissue throughout the body. The condition cannot be cured but can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes.
  • This refers to a problem with the electrical system in the heart causing the heart to beat too fast, too slow or in an irregular way. Some arrhythmias are relatively harmless, but others can cause serious complications, such as atrial fibrillation. In some cases, arrhythmias may result in sudden cardiac arrest, which can lead to death.
  • High blood pressure. More than 56 million women in the U.S. have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fewer than 1 in 4 women have their high blood pressure under control and the condition is often underdiagnosed in women. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
Heart Disease Risk Factors in Women

Several health conditions and lifestyle habits may increase a woman’s risk of developing heart disease. These include:

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Early first period (before age 11)
  • Early menopause (before age 40)
  • Hypertensive disorders during pregnancy and/or gestational diabetes
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • An unhealthy diet
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol

Although not every risk factor for heart disease is under your control, practicing healthy lifestyle habits can go a long way towards keeping your heart healthier and lowering your risk of developing heart disease. Managing your weight by following a healthy diet and getting in regular physical activity not only keeps your heart healthier but is good for your body in many other ways. So too is not smoking and limiting alcohol to no more than one drink per day. Reducing stress and regularly seeing a doctor to check your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels are all proactive steps you can take to live a heart-healthy life.

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Date Last Reviewed: December 19, 2023

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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