Here’s how to tell fact from fiction when it comes to women and their hearts.
Many people think of heart disease as something only men need to pay attention to. But it’s also important to be well-informed about heart disease if you’re a woman. It will help you know how to better prevent the disease, what to watch out for and what to do if you suspect you have a problem.
Here are some common myths about women and heart disease—and the real facts you need to know.
Myth: Heart disease is a man’s disease.
Fact: Women definitely need to ignore this myth! Only 1 in 5 women believe heart disease is the biggest threat to their health, but the fact is cardiovascular disease affects more women than men and is the number one killer of women. In fact, it’s more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. So while many women worry about breast cancer (and rightfully so), they should also pay attention to their hearts.
Myth: I practice healthy lifestyle habits, so I don’t have to worry about my heart.
Fact: Although healthy lifestyle habits are definitely good for your heart, they’re not a guarantee you won’t have heart disease. Even if you’re at a healthy weight, are fit and follow a healthy diet, you may have risk factors like high blood pressure or high cholesterol. These conditions may be influenced by family history and other things that have nothing to do with how much you exercise or what you eat.
Myth: I’m too young to have a problem with my heart.
Fact: Although the risk of heart disease increases as you age, it can affect women (and men) of any age. Following a healthy lifestyle helps lower your risk, but some people are born with underlying conditions and risk factors that increase the risk of developing heart disease earlier in life. Other factors may also affect your chance of having heart issues at a younger age, such as smoking while on birth control pills.
Myth: I don’t have any symptoms so all is good with my heart.
Fact: Many heart disease symptoms can be attributed to other conditions, especially because women’s symptoms are often different than men’s. Women are more likely to experience shortness of breath, dizziness/lightheadedness, fatigue, nausea/vomiting, or pain in the jaw, upper abdomen or lower chest. Some women don’t experience any telltale signs. In fact, 64% of women who die suddenly of coronary disease had no previous symptoms, according to the American Heart Association®.
Myth: My doctor will tell me if I have heart disease.
Fact: Heart disease is often undertreated and misdiagnosed in women. Of course, this doesn’t apply to all doctors, but it’s important to advocate for your own heart health. Research shows doctors are more likely to assign a lower risk to women compared to men with similar risks. In one survey, only 40% of women reported having heart health assessments during wellness exams. Of the 74% of respondents who had at least one heart disease risk factor, only 16% were told they were at risk.
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Date Last Reviewed: December 13, 2021
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD