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Risk Factors and Symptoms of Cardiovascular Disease in Women

Women may think of cardiovascular disease (CVD) as "a man’s disease," but in sheer numbers, about the same number of women as men die annually from CVD in the U.S.

Similarly, the symptoms of heart attack can be different in women versus men, and are often misunderstood – even by some physicians. As a result, women are less likely to be completely screened or adequately treated for CVD risk factors.

CVD Risk Factors for Women 

  • Family history of heart attack or stroke, especially at early ages
  • High blood pressure
  • Adult onset diabetes* or metabolic syndrome
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoke
  • Use alcohol excessively
  • Overweight by 20 pounds or more*
  • Lack regular physical activity*
  • Have peripheral arterial disease (PAD)

*These risk factors are extremely dominant and more important in women than men.

CVD Symptoms in Women

  • Feeling breathless, often without chest pain
  • Flu-like symptoms, including nausea, clamminess and cold sweats
  • Unexplained fatigue, weakness or dizziness
  • Pain in the upper back, shoulders, neck or jaw
  • Anxiety

Stroke Symptoms in Women

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

What You Can Do

Schedule a cardiovascular assessment and personalized risk factor evaluation by calling 858-657-8530. Then, follow the recommended lifestyle and treatment plan to lower your risk for heart disease.

Recommendations for Low to Intermediate CVD Risk

For the many women who are at low to intermediate risk, the best course of action may be to be aware of these risks and practice lowering them. Work with your primary care physician to quit smoking (if applicable) and to keep a watchful eye on risk indicators such as blood pressure, weight, blood sugar and cholesterol. If that is the best option for you, we will provide you with a copy of our findings and recommendations for you to share with your primary care doctor.

As a university-based medical center and teaching facility, we are accustomed to working with community-based physicians and will be happy to partner with your doctor to manage your cardiovascular health.

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