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Women, take your health to heart.

Heart disease is her disease too

If you thought heart conditions were primarily a men’s health concern, you’re not alone. But the truth is, nearly as many women die each year from heart disease as men. In fact, it’s the leading cause of death for women in the U.S.

Not knowing your risk can lead to dangerous consequences. Research shows about 6 out of 100 women in their 40s will develop coronary heart disease growing to nearly 1 out of 5 women in their 80s. As leaders in cardiovascular care, we can help you understand the signs and symptoms and when you should consult a physician.

Symptoms and risk factors unique to women

Heart disease symptoms can look different for women than men. Often, they are more subtle and harder to identify. Likewise, some risk factors affect women more than men. The good news is eighty percent of all heart disease is preventable. We encourage you to live a healthy lifestyle and listen to your heart.

  • Angina (chest pain)

    Angina may feel like traditional pain, but it may also feel like a tightness or pressure in the chest or throat that radiates down the jaw or left shoulder or arm.
  • Breathlessness

    Having shortness of breath or waking up breathless at night.
  • Chronic fatigue

    Overwhelming or out-of-character fatigue may be a symptom of heart disease. Severe fatigue that lasts several days can also be a heart attack symptom.
  • Dizziness

    Can indicate heart valve disease or arrhythmia (an irregular heart rhythm).
  • Edema or swelling

    Particularly in the lower legs and ankles.
  • Fluttering or rapid heartbeat

    May cause pain or difficulty breathing.
  • Gastric upset

    Nausea or vomiting unrelated to diet.
  • Heartburn

    Some women describe heart-related pain this way.

These symptoms do not necessarily mean that you have heart disease. But you should listen to your heart and your body. Talk with your doctor about these symptoms, what triggers them, and how long they last.


If you do have sudden chest, shoulder, or arm pain, tightness in your chest, or you have difficulty breathing, call 911 immediately. Do not delay. Getting treatment quickly could help limit damage to the heart muscle—and it could save your life.

Risk factors you cannot control

  • Age

    As women age, the risk of heart disease increases due to lower estrogen levels and the chances of developing additional health issues that can affect the heart.
  • Family history

    You are at greater risk if an immediate family member had heart disease at an early age—55 for a male relative or younger than 65 for a female relative.
  • Race

    African-American and Hispanic women have a higher risk of heart disease than Caucasian women.
  • Gender

    Women have a lower risk than men of developing heart disease before menopause, but after menopause, the risk is about equal.

Risk factors you can help manage

  • Smoking

    Smokers are two to four times more likely to have heart disease than non-smokers. When you stop smoking, your body begins to heal, with almost immediate decreases in blood pressure and heart rate.
  • High blood pressure

    Among women of childbearing age, 20 percent have high blood pressure even though many do not realize it. The rate increases to 40 percent between ages 45 and 64, and 60 percent for those age 65 and over. High blood pressure puts added strain on the heart.
  • High cholesterol

    About one-third of American women have cholesterol levels high enough to pose a serious heart disease risk.
  • Weight

    Excess weight can also put added strain on your heart, raising your blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose (sugar) levels. Another way to assess weight-related risk is to measure your waistline. For women, a waist measurement of 35” or more indicates an increased risk of heart disease.
  • Inactivity

    Inactivity can weaken the heart, and it also makes it easier to gain weight, increasing your chances of developing other risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Other risk factors to consider

  • Diabetes

    Women with diabetes are at greater risk of heart disease than men with diabetes. Over time, high blood sugar (glucose) levels can damage the body’s blood vessels and increase the chances that fatty deposits will build up in the arteries.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation treatment

    Radiation therapy as well as some drugs used to treat cancer, particularly breast cancer, can increase your risk of heart disease. If you have had a cancer diagnosis, talk with your doctor about seeing a cardio-oncologist, a physician who specializes in cancer treatments and its effects on the heart. Learn more
  • Pregnancy complications

    Women who develop high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy are at higher risk for developing heart disease later in life. It is particularly important for these women to see their doctor regularly for checkups each year and to pay attention to important lifestyle issues, such as exercise and healthy eating.
  • Stress and depression

    Both chronic and the sudden onset of stress seem to affect women’s hearts more than men’s hearts.
  • Sleep apnea

    A serious condition in which breathing suddenly stops during the night, sleep apnea may be underdiagnosed in women. During an apnea episode, the brain triggers the body to awaken to resume breathing. This frequent, rapid awakening (which you may not even be aware of) can increase blood pressure and put added strain on your heart.
  • Autoimmune disease

    Some of these diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis—both more common in women than men—tend to have an effect on the heart, possibly due to the inflammation they cause.

Are you at risk for heart disease?

Just seven minutes could save your life. Take our short quiz to assess your cardiovascular health.

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Real women, real experiences

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Nationally recognized cardiac specialists

Our cardiovascular team includes specialists in women's health. Together, they collaborate to share new information about risk factors unique to women. With offices located throughout central and southern Maryland, the District of Columbia, and northern Virginia, you always have convenient, local access to expert cardiac care. Ask for a location near you when you call for your appointment.

Ebony Alston, MD

Ana Barac, MD

Rachel Barish, NP

Harjit Chahal, MD

Estelle Jean, MD

Susan O’Donoghue, MD

Oluseyi Princewill, MD

Maria Rodrigo, MD

M. Barbara Srichai-Parsia, MD

Kelley Sullivan, MD

Carolina Valdiviezo, MD

To request an appointment, call


or click now

Request an Appointment
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