Facts About Women and Heart Disease

By MedStudio Staff


Below are statistics around women and heart disease:

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United states, killing 292,188 women in 2009. That’s 1 in every 4 female deaths (1).
  • Although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a “man’s disease,” around the same number of women and men die each year of heart disease in the United States. Despite increases in awareness over the past decade, only 54% of women recognize that heart disease is their number one killer (2).
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for African American and Caucasian women in the United States. Among Hispanic women, heart disease and cancer cause roughly the same number of deaths each year. For Native American or Alaska Native as well as Asian or Pacific Islander women, heart disease is second only to cancer (3).
  • About 5.8% of all Caucasian women, 7.6% of African American women, and 5.6% of Mexican American women have coronary heart disease (5).
  • 64% of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms (4). Even if you have no symptoms, you may still be at risk for heart disease.


While some women have no symptoms, others experience:

  • Angina (dull, heavy to sharp chest pain or discomfort)
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, or throat
  • Pain in the upper abdomen or back

These symptoms may occur during rest, at the beginning of physical activity, or can be triggered by mental stress (6).

Women are more likely to describe chest pain that is sharp and burning, and more frequently have pain in the neck, jaw, throat, abdomen or back (6).

Sometimes heart disease may be silent and not diagnosed until a woman experiences signs or symptoms of a heart attack, heart failure, an arrhythmia (6), or stroke.

These symptoms include:

  • Heart Attack – Chest pain or discomfort, upper back pain, indigestion, heartburn, nausea/vomiting, extreme fatigue, upper body discomfort, and shortness of breath.
  • Arrhythmia – Fluttering feelings in the chest (palpitations) (6).
  • Heart Failure – Shortness of breath, fatigue, and swelling of the feet, ankles, legs, and abdomen.
  • Stroke – Sudden weakness, paralysis (inability to move), or numbness of the face, arms and legs, especially on one side of the body. Other symptoms may include confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech, difficulty seeing in one or both eyes, shortness of breath, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, loss of consciousness, or a sudden and sever headache (7).

Risk Factors

Key risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking. About half of Americans(49%) have at least one of these three risk factors (5).

Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Poor diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Excessive alcohol use


To reduce your chances of getting heart disease, it’s important to (8):

  • Know your blood pressure. Having uncontrolled blood pressure can result in heart disease. High blood pressure has no symptoms, so it’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about whether you should be tested for diabetes. Having uncontrolled diabetes raises your chances of heart disease.
  • Make healthy food choices. Being overweight and obese raises your risk of heart disease.
  • Limit alcohol intake. You should limit your intake to one drink per day or less.
  • Lower your stress level. Find healthy ways to cope with stress.
CDC’s Public Health Efforts Related to Heart Disease
Additional Information
For more information on women and heart disease, visit the following Web sites:
Kochanek KD, Xu JQ, Murphy SL, Miniño AM, Kung HC. Deaths: final data for 2009 [PDF-2M].National vital statistics reports. 2011;60(3).
Mosca L, Mochari-Greenberger H, Dolor RJ, Newby LK, Robb KJ. Twelve-year follow-up of American women’s awareness of cardiovascular disease risk and barriers to heart health. Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality Outcomes. 2010;3:120-7.
Heron M. Deaths: Leading causes for 2008 [PDF-2.7M]National vital statistics reports. 2012;60(6).
Roger VL, Go AS, Lloyd-Jones DM, Benjamin EJ, Berry JD, Borden WB, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2012 update: a report from the American Heart AssociationCirculation. 2012;125(1): e2–220.
CDC. Million Hearts: strategies to reduce the prevalence of leading cardiovascular disease risk factors. United States, 2011. MMWR2011;60(36):1248–51.
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Heart Disease? [cited 2013 July 19, 2013]. www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/hdw/signs.html.
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Stroke? [cited 2013 July 19, 2013]. www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/stroke/signs.html.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health. Heart Disease: Frequently Asked Questions. 2009. [cited 2013 July 19, 2013]. http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/heart-disease.pdf [PDF-1.7M].
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_women_heart.htm.