Women's Heart Health

Surpassing breast cancer, heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for women, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Prevention is the best medicine, and there is so much women can do to avoid heart disease.

Too often, women’s heart problems go undiagnosed — because sometimes there are no symptoms or because symptoms go unchecked. Women might not check their symptoms for years, limiting their options by the time they seek treatment. Here are a few tips for women to maintain their heart health:

Get a primary care provider and schedule an annual checkup

Many women have an OB-GYN they see regularly, but it’s less common for women to have a primary care provider (usually an internal or family medicine doctor or nurse practitioner). Annual checkups include the following simple, noninvasive tests that are key to the early detection of heart problems:

  • Blood pressure check. High blood pressure has almost no symptoms, but it is easily detected by a test using a blood pressure cuff and a stethoscope.
  • Cholesterol check. A blood test for high cholesterol can reveal heart issues.
  • Blood sugar check. Catching high blood sugar early makes it easier to treat, delaying or even preventing diabetes and heart disease.
  • Weight check. Managing body weight is one of the most important factors that influence heart health. A primary care provider can help set a realistic goal and provide tools for success.

Testing for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease is important because while these conditions may appear on their own, having one makes it more likely that another will appear.

Watch for the warning signs of heart problems

Woman looking out a window

These signs include:

  • Shortness of breath during physical activity that goes away while at rest.
  • Feeling unusually tired without explanation.
  • Unexplained dizziness, light-headedness or nausea that lasts longer than a few days.
  • Family history. If any close relatives have heart problems, tell your primary care provider. You could be at greater risk.
  • Heart palpitations. Under normal circumstances, you shouldn’t be able to feel or hear your own heart beating. If you do, that can be a serious warning sign, especially if your heartbeat is too fast, too slow or irregular.

You may have all of these symptoms or none at all, which is why screenings are important.

Don’t ignore symptoms

The symptoms of a heart attack can be different for women than men. Here are some heart attack symptoms that women commonly experience:

  • Pain or a strange feeling in the back, shoulder, jaw or abdomen.
  • Heaviness or aching in either arm.
  • Unexplained fainting. This needs to be checked by a medical professional immediately.
  • Unexplained vomiting, severe nausea or sweating.
  • A feeling of impending doom. Many patients describe this as knowing something very bad is happening, but they can’t explain why.