Heart disease and women: Learn the symptoms and risk factors

February 21, 2024

Keeping your heart healthy is essential to overall well-being. After all, your heart works hard to pump blood and oxygen throughout your body. But did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S.? While men face a greater risk of heart attack, twice as many women die from heart disease than from all cancers combined.


The key to protecting your heart health is the ability to recognize the signs and symptoms of heart disease, including how they might differ between women and men. It’s also important to know the risk factors that may make you more likely to develop the condition, as well as your options for testing your heart health so you can keep an eye on it over time.


Heart disease can affect women at any age, so here's what you should know. 


Symptoms of heart disease in women

Heart disease symptoms can differ in women compared to men. Sometimes there are no obvious symptoms at all. Be aware of the following symptoms:

  • Chest tightness or discomfort
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, upper back or abdomen
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Extreme fatigue


However, the signs of heart disease in women can be more subtle; they may even be confused with other health conditions.


Symptoms of heart attack in women

Heart attack symptoms in women can vary from person to person. Some women may experience only mild symptoms, and others may have no symptoms at all. If you are experiencing any symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 immediately.


Common heart attack symptoms in women include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort (uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back)
  • Fluttering feelings in the chest (palpitations)
  • Unusual fatigue or extreme weakness
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Indigestion or heartburn
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath


While heart disease and heart attack symptoms in women can be different in each individual, knowing your risk factors and taking steps to improve your heart health helps puts you in control of your well-being.


Risk factors for heart disease in women

Certain medical conditions and lifestyle choices can raise your risk of developing heart disease. Risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Stress


As women age and go through menopause, hormonal changes can also lead to heart-related health issues like increased belly fat and high blood pressure. Women with high blood pressure or preeclampsia during pregnancy also have a higher future heart disease risk. Additionally, Black women are more likely to have high blood pressure than white women and therefore face a higher risk of heart disease.


Take care of your heart with heart health testing

Regardless of your risk factors, you have the power to lower your heart disease risk by practicing a healthy lifestyle. That might mean increasing your level of physical activity, quitting smoking, eating a well-balanced diet, limiting alcohol or managing stress levels.


Be sure to check in regularly with your heart health by taking steps like Labcorp OnDemand's Heart Health Test. This blood test for heart function measures fatty substances in the blood (e.g., cholesterol and triglycerides) as well as inflammation levels used to evaluate heart disease risk. Discuss your results with your healthcare provider, who can help guide next steps, which could include medication, lifestyle changes or other heart-healthy habits.


Knowledge is power when it comes to heart health, so take charge by understanding your risks and getting tested. Your heart will thank you.