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Heart Disease In Women

Women and Heart Disease

Signs and Symptoms of heart disease in women

Early signs of heart disease in women

Are men or women more likely to have heart disease? The answer may surprise you.

New Jersey Interventional Cardiologist Dr. Anuj Shah dispels the top 5 heart disease myths

American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women was held this month to raise awareness for heart disease and stroke in women. Heart disease is the number one killer in women. However, there are a lot of myths when it comes to women and heart disease.

Here are the top 5 heart disease myths that I see in my cardiology practice in Passaic, New Jersey.

Women and Heart Disease: 5 Myths

MYTH #1: Heart disease is only a problem of older men and women and younger women don’t have heart problems.

TRUTH: In reality, women are very likely to have heart problems and heart disease happens to be the number one reason for mortality in women. In men, heart disease is declining, but in women, heart disease is actually getting more common and today we frequently see heart problems in young women.

Why is believing this myth/concept dangerous?

Believing this myth is dangerous because it causes women to ignore heart problems or symptoms they may be experiencing.

I can’t tell you how many times I see a couple in my office where the husband gets all the screening tests done, but the wife who is sitting there will choose not to go for any cardiac tests thinking she is not vulnerable to heart issues.

But when asked, the woman may say, “I do get shortness of breath or stomach pain but not real chest pain, and hence I do not need any cardiac tests.”

MYTH #2: If you have heart problems, you will have a classic crushing chest pain.

TRUTH: In reality, not all patients get classic chest pain symptoms when they have a blockage or other serious heart problems, especially women.

Women tend to get very atypical cardiovascular symptoms. For example, sometimes, women get abdominal discomfort, nausea, sweating, or shortness of breath as cardiac symptoms.

Why is believing this myth/concept dangerous?

Believing this myth is dangerous because you can miss the fatal signs of heart disease or even a heart attack.

Family members and healthcare providers may ignore these symptoms in women thinking they are related to emotional stress and menopause. Unfortunately, this results in serious heart problems getting missed.

MYTH #3: Supplements and vitamins can prevent heart disease.

TRUTH: In reality, there is no proof of this.  Supplements like Vitamin E can actually cause more harm. Even baby aspirin, which we used to believe was helpful in preventing heart problems, it now turns out there is no evidence to support this claim.

Why is believing this myth/concept dangerous?

In women, aspirin can increase the risk of bleeding and not improve outcomes. Historically, most of the research trials about life-saving medications and interventions were performed predominantly in men and there has been a lack of robust data in women. We do need more cardiac studies done for women alone. The biggest example is the study on Hormone Replacement Therapy.

Until the study results came out, the conventional wisdom was that women get heart problems when they have menopause and hence providing hormone replacement would lead to fewer heart problems. But in reality, in this research trial, it came out that routine use of Hormone Replacement Therapy was leading to worse clinical outcomes and no protection.

MYTH #4: If heart disease runs in the family, nothing can be done about it.

TRUTH: This is not true. We used to think a strong family history of heart disease was something irreversible. But in reality, when women have a strong family history of cardiovascular disease, a difference can still be made by reducing risk factors, getting aggressive lipid control, and through early detection and screening.

Why is believing this myth/concept dangerous?

Believing this myth is dangerous because you must take a proactive approach towards managing cardiovascular disease.

So, what should women do?  Women, along with their healthcare providers, should make attempts to reduce their cardiovascular risk factors with proper diet, regular exercise, proper blood pressure control, lipid control and sugar control and by recognizing cardiac symptoms and getting early detection and screening. Most importantly, do not ignore any symptoms.

MYTH #5: Varicose veins are a cosmetic problem, not a heart problem. Varicose veins do not impact heart health in women and are purely a cosmetic issue.

FACT: Most women believe varicose veins are a cosmetic issue only, but in reality, they can be very symptomatic and they represent venous insufficiency which is a serious vascular issue. Venous insufficiency can lead to significant pain, cramps, discomfort, swelling, discoloration, restless legs, unusual itching and in some cases painful ulcers.

Having varicose veins could be a very early manifestation of cardiovascular disease. Despite the myth, the detection and treatment in most cases is very easy and even covered by most insurance companies. It should definitely not be ignored.

Why is believing this myth/concept dangerous?

One can be at risk of serious vascular issues if you believe the myth and ignore varicose veins.

How Women Can Prevent Heart Disease

How many women die from heart disease each year?

Facts about women’s heart disease

  • Cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the leading cause of death in women.
  • Despite increases in awareness over the past decades, only about half (56%) of women recognize that heart disease is their number 1 killer Learn more facts about women and heart disease. (
  • Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in women, accounting for 38% of deaths among women, according to the American Heart Association.
  • In the Framingham Heart Study, obesity increased the risk of CAD by 64% in women, compared to 46% in men.


Heart disease prevention for women 

Is heart disease preventable? How to prevent heart disease in women

Prevention and early detection are key in protecting women from cardiovascular disease. The classic heart attack symptoms you most often hear about including angina means pressure like pain and discomfort in the substernal area which should not be taken lightly. Unfortunately, a number of individuals, especially women and patients with diabetes, do not display classic heart attack symptoms.

What is atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease? 

Atherosclerosis means the plaque building process inside various arteries often leading to narrowing. When the plaque ruptures, the organ the artery is feeding will suffer from lack of blood flow. In the case of the heart, when heart arteries get plaque, it can cause narrowing and can lead to cardiovascular disease, including myocardial infarction (heart attack) as well as sudden cardiac arrest.

Are there any tests that can reveal whether or not women have cardiovascular disease? 

Yes, there are a slew of tests that can help determine if someone has atherosclerosis or not. Most of the tests focus on finding out if there’s significant narrowing or not. In other words, most tests would pick up blockages greater than seventy percent. However, there are certain tests that can help pick up even milder plaque formation. There should never be a ‘blanket test’ for every person, but rather it should be tailored to an individual, their overall risks and their symptoms.  Seek attention for symptoms such as chest discomfort or unusual shortness of breath and not ignore it. It could be the difference between life and death.

Did you enjoy this article? Keep reading:  

21 Heart Attack Risk Factors

For more information on heart disease in women, visit


*A portion of these answers by Dr. Anuj Shah originally appeared in the Spirit of Women Magazine article by Sandra Gordon 5 heart health myths debunked 

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