Silent Signs of Heart Disease in Women

Women Heart Health Tips

Most people don’t realize that heart disease and stroke are the #1 killer of women. Many have the misconception that heart disease is a man’s disease, but the reality is that each year one in every three women will die of heart disease and stroke.

In honor of National Heart Month and GO RED for Women month, I am joining the movement to help women know the facts and that they can prevent heart disease. In fact, 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented with education and lifestyle changes.1

Get to Know the Facts

  • One of 3 women dies from heart disease, equal to the prevalence in men.
  • More women than men die from heart attacks and strokes.
  • Women typically develop cardiovascular symptoms about a decade later than men, and the disease is often riskier and more complicated to treat. Women are also more likely to be disabled after a heart attack or stroke.
  • At menopause, a woman’s heart diseaserisk starts to increase significantly, so start prevention before menopause.
  • 90 percent of women have at least one risk factor for developing heart disease.
  • Women’s symptoms are often overlooked at emergency rooms, or doctors’ offices. That is why it is CRUCIAL for you to be in the know and to be pro-active if symptoms are present.
  • Women don’t have “typical” symptoms and symptoms do not always include chest pain. Commonly, the only symptom is extreme fatigue, or fatigue upon exertion or “just not feeling right.” You can see why this symptom is misdiagnosed. Fatigue can result from lack of sleep, lifestyle, allergies, colds, and many other conditions, but at times it is a sign of heart disease.

Recognize the Symptoms

Heart Attack

  • unexplained prolonged fatigue
  • chest discomfort , pressure or chest pain (not as severe as men’s)
  • pain in your arm(s), back, neck, or jaw or stomach pain
  • shortness of breath, with or without exertion
  • light-headedness or headache
  • confusion
  • nausea or indigestion
  • sweating


F.A.S.T. is an acronym used for the most common signs and symptoms of stroke. These signs tend to appear suddenly and every second matters so it’s crucial to act fast.

  • Face. Ask the person to smile. Does the face look uneven? Does one side droop?
  • Arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift down or is it unable to move?
  • Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Does their speech sound strange? Strange speech could be slurred, the wrong words may come out, or the person is unable to speak.
  • Time to call 9-1-1.

Understand the Risk Factors

Be alert to your risk status for heart disease. Each risk factor increases your risk. These include:

  • Age 55 or older – no matter how healthy you are
  • Smoking, which increases heart risk 7 times more in women than in men
  • Diabetes, which increases risk by 3-fold
  • Being overweight or having abdominal fat (a waist size over 35 inches)
  • African-American women over age 20 – almost 50% have heart disease
  • Hispanic women – who typically get heart disease 10 years earlier than Caucasian women
  • High blood pressure – 1 in 3 women over age 65 have or will have HBP
  • Cholesterol over 200 – which means 70% of women
  • High triglycerides (blood fats) over 125
  • Sedentary living, including more than 10 hrs of TV a week
  • Menopause – at any age
  • Depression/stress (ups risk 2.5 times)
  • Inadequate sleep
  • Family history or personal history of a heart condition

Scary, isn’t it? How many risk factors do you have? Which can you reverse or control?

Here’s the good news: 80 percent of all heart disease is preventable and even reversible by making lifestyle changes in your eating and activity habits.  

We can all make changes. Be proactive! Do not wait for your doctor to tell you to eat fresh food or shed a few pounds. Rid your pantry of packaged foods with extra salt, sugar and saturated and trans fats. Vow to eat a heart-healthy diet that is plant-focused with lean proteins and liquid vegetable oils. Add salads, beans, nuts, fruit and wholegrains to your daily diet along with lean cuts of beef and pork and nonfat dairy foods. You can do this. Take a 30 minute brisk walk daily in your neighborhood, mall or gym. You can break it up into three 10-minute walks. It all starts with one step.

Making these changes, you will soon reap the benefits – improved, less inflamed arteries, better blood flow, lower blood fats and a lessened risk for heart attacks and stroke. The sooner you start, the better. The longer the damage continues, the tougher for you to turn around. Please take preventative, aggressive action. Every bite and every step count.

Start eating better and move more today. You are worth it!

For more ideas on heart-healthy eating and successful solutions, check out The Cooper Clinic Solution to the Diet Revolution: Step Up to the Plate (2009). My guidebook of tips and eating plans makes healthy eating more enjoyable and more manageable. Connect with me online at @GeorgiaKostas and Facebook/GeorgiaKostasNutrition and visit:

This nutrition information does not address individual health conditions. Please consult with your physician or registered dietitian to meet specific health and dietary needs.

The inclusion of links to other websites does not imply any endorsement of the material on the websites or any association with their operators.                                                        

1Source: The American Heart Association

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