Scary Facts About Heart Disease in Women (and What You Can Do)

You may think you know everything about heart disease, but the truth is there are some terrifying facts out there that might surprise you. We’re taking a deeper look at five scary statistics about heart disease in women, in particular, and delivering information on what you can do about it.

No more excuses, it’s time to brush up on the facts. Here’s what you need to know, and how to best take care of your heart.

1. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women

hands showing red heart

Many women die of heart disease each year. | iStock.com

You may have assumed cancers, such as breast or ovarian, would be the leading cause of death among women, but that’s not the case. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease comes in at the No. 1 cause of death for American women, accounting for about one in four female deaths. The CDC also notes that, despite often being considered a man’s disease, heart disease kills about the same number of men and women each year.

What to do about it:

female at cafe using laptop

Do your research so you can be aware. | iStock.com/jacoblund

Do your research and arm yourself with the facts. Shockingly, the CDC says only 54% of ladies are aware heart disease is the leading cause of death for women. The good news, though, is research continues and more women are becoming aware of the threat. For example, one 2012 study showed women’s awareness nearly doubled over a span of 15 years.

2. More than half of women who die suddenly had no previous symptoms

young woman sitting on floor at home with cell phone

A woman could show no symptoms. | iStock.com/m-imagephotography

You’d think someone who died suddenly from heart disease would have recognized some major warning signs, but this isn’t the case. In fact, more times than not, women show no previous symptoms. According to the CDC, a whopping 64% of women who died suddenly from coronary heart disease didn’t experience anything to tip them off.

What to do about it:

Female doctor writing

You should know what to look for. | iStock.com/megaflopp

Know the symptoms. And more importantly, talk to your doctor about anything you assume may be something else. Stay up to date with your annual well-woman visits, and be familiar with potential red flags. The CDC says, “Women are more likely to describe chest pain that is sharp, burning and more frequently have pain in the neck, jaw, throat, abdomen or back.” Make sure you don’t dismiss such symptoms as being overly paranoid.

3. A silent heart attack is commonly dismissed as an anxiety attack

doctor holding a medical chart

Anxiety attacks and heart attacks can look similar. | iStock.com

It just so happens that patients and doctors alike are dismissing silent heart attacks as nothing more than panic or anxiety attacks, more often for females. Even though a silent heart attack shows no, or unrecognizable, symptoms, clinical cardiologist Deborah Ekery, M.D., says patients often complain about fatigue and equally unimportant issues at first. Only after testing, however, is it discovered they’ve actually suffered a heart attack, maybe even weeks or months prior.

Even though they never experienced any hallmark signs, their heart attack is still just as serious.

What to do about it:  

woman checking her heart rate during a run

Be mindful of risk factors. | iStock.com

Don’t let your gender be the reason both you and your doctor assume you’re having nothing more than a panic attack. You need to look out for risk factors, which are the same as those for any other heart attack. Mind your blood pressure and cholesterol, be conscious of your age, and know your family history.

4. Women don’t always get the same treatment men do

a doctor holding a tablet

Your treatment may be delayed. | iStock.com

A man and a woman can both have heart disease, yet a woman will not necessarily receive the same treatment. According to SecondsCount, a woman’s care is sometimes delayed or passed over altogether (see No. 3). Within the first 10 minutes a woman presents heart attack symptoms, she’s less likely to have an ECG or EKG test done to determine whether a person has a normal heart rhythm. Furthermore, women are “less likely to be cared for by a cardiologist during their inpatient admission,” the story reads.

What to do about it:

doctor looking at his watch

You need to be your own health advocate, even when the doctor seems to be in a rush. | iStock.com

Know the facts. Knowledge is power, and if you’re familiar with the overwhelmingly scary statistics about heart disease among women, you can make your own case for seeing a cardiologist. The reality is you need to be your own health advocate, so don’t shy away from insisting you see a particular doctor or ask about tests that may be necessary. Best case scenario? You’re wrong, and it’s something much less concerning. Coming across as irritating to the medical staff isn’t reason enough to brush aside serious concerns.

5. 90% of women have at least one risk factor

Couple talking to a doctor

Discuss risk factors with your doctor. | iStock.com

This might be one of the scariest statistics out there: 90% of women are at risk for developing heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. And the worst part is most don’t even know it. When you think of heart disease, it’s easy to jump to thoughts of a person keeling over in agony while grabbing their chest. But it’s not always that recognizable. It turns out, small symptoms can develop into something much more serious over time.

What to do about it:

Overweight woman on diet

Some risk factors can be managed, like weight. | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

Know your risk factors. Some of them are out of your control, like family history and age. Others, however, are certainly within your realm of power. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, being a smoker, and being obese are all lifestyle factors (although, genetics do still come into play). Changes you can make in any of these categories can help lower your risk for heart disease.