Bruce Johnson

Heart Disease and Women: Heart Attack Symptoms and Risks for Cardiovascular Disease

Forget everything you've heard about cardiovascular disease and heart attacks being just a MAN's problem. It is the number one killer of WOMEN in the United States. It is also a leading cause of disability among women. Here's more information about heart disease and women you may not be aware of.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 95 percent of the women studied said they knew their symptoms were new or different a month or more before their heart attacks.

The U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) wants to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes by 2017 with their Million Hearts campaign - learn more at their website.

Pay Attention to Heart Attack Symptoms
Heart attack symptoms most commonly reported by women in the study were unusual fatigue, sleep disturbance, and shortness of breath.
Dr. Elizabeth Ross, a leading cardiologist and author of Healing the Female Heart, wrote that when she was in medical school, there was little information on women and heart attacks. "In the first two weeks after a heart attack, women are twice as likely to die as men," she said. "I think there is a tendency not to refer women for treatment as early...there is an assumption in the medical community that women don't get heart attacks and that women should take care of the men in their lives."

heart attack survivor

Heart to Heart subject Mary Maguire of Wheeling, WV

Mary Maguire of Wheeling, WV, was too busy caring for her husband and two children and not paying enough attention to her own heart attack symptoms.  She was 46 years old. After spending a night awake and in pain, she got up and went to her classes at a nearby school. In Heart to Heart by C. Bruce Johnson, she says, "...and then I missed my ride home, so I walked, about three and a half or four miles. I was fine, but then that night, again, when I finally got to bed, all the pain was back, but this time I couldn't control it at all."
Doctors say women, like men, should be aware of heart attack symptoms such as chest pains, shortness of breath and  indigestion, but they should also be aware of heightened anxiety, stress, unfamiliar weakness, unusual fatigue, cold sweat, and dizziness.

Be Aware of Heart Attack Risk Factors
According to the American Heart Association:

  • In 2012, 56 percent of women identified heart disease as the leading cause of death compared with 30 percent in 1997.
  • In 1997, women were more likely to cite cancer than heart disease as the leading killer (35 percent versus 30 percent); but in 2012, only 24 percent cited cancer.
  • In 2012, 36 percent of black women and 34 percent of Hispanic women identified heart disease as the top killer — awareness levels that white women had in 1997 (33 percent).
  • At age 40 and older, 23 percent of women compared with 18 percent of men will die within one year after a heart attack.
  • Stroke is a leading cause of serious, long-term disability; an estimated 15 percent to 30 percent of stroke survivors are permanently disabled
  • The Heart Association also reports that most women today are still unaware of their risks for cardiovascular disease.

Here are more heart disease statistics at a glance that you should know.

Download and read the full report on all the risk factors and demographics for heart attack victims.

Erin Peiffer, at age 39, learned differently. In Chapter 3 of Heart to Heart, she tells her story. Always one in charge, Erin drove herself to the hospital. She was more annoyed than concerned, "I was like, damn, I really can't breathe and I can't get this coughing to stop." Johnson writes, "The possibility that her heart was part of the problem didn't occur to her. Why would it?"
Today Peiffer is home on permanent disability from a six-figure sales executive job.

heart attack symptoms in women

Heart to Heart subject Erin Peiffer talks to CNN about tackling cholesterol as part of her heart healthy lifestyle.

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