Heart disease is the leading cause of death for all Americans, and is often perceived foremost as a men’s health issue.
It develops seven to ten years earlier in men, who are also more likely to experience heart attacks than women. Undoubtedly, it’s the most prevalent threat to men’s health – but the focus on men can sometimes obscure another urgent conversation we need to have. The one we need to have about women’s hearts.
Research shows that only 44 percent of women believe heart disease is their greatest health threat – even though it claims more women’s lives than all forms of cancer combined. This is especially frustrating because the majority of heart disease-related deaths are preventable.
In honor of American Heart Month, here are four things women, and everyone, should know.
1) Women have unique risk factors throughout life
High blood pressure is a top risk factor for heart disease, but is often underdiagnosed in women—and fewer than one in four women with high blood pressure have their condition under control.
Pregnant women with high blood pressure are twice as likely to develop heart disease later in life compared to pregnant women who don’t have high blood pressure. And high blood pressure develops in more than 10 percent of pregnancies in the United States.
In addition, women in menopause have significantly greater risk of cardiovascular issues than premenopausal women of the same age.
2) Women and men can have different symptoms
Many women are not aware of the heart attack symptoms and warning signs that are more prevalent in women. Chest pain and discomfort is the most common symptom overall, but for some women, a heart attack might feel different:
It could feel like you just carried a box of books home – and have pain or soreness in your chest, shoulders, arms, upper back, or neck.
It could feel like you ate something that was in the fridge too long – and have stomach discomfort, nausea, vomiting, or heartburn.
It could feel like you just climbed a mountain – and have shortness of breath, weakness, lightheadedness, or sweating.
These symptoms are especially worrisome if you have three or more, and if they are unusual for you. If you think you are having a heart attack, call 911.
3) Women experience disparities in heart healthcare
Compared to men, women wait 29% longer in emergency rooms, are 53% more likely to be misdiagnosed, and often don't receive the attention they deserve when they speak up about their symptoms.
Hello Heart’s “If You Feel Something, Say Something” campaign aims to help women recognize and firmly communicate their heart health needs.
4) Women and men have different outcomes
A little inequity everywhere adds up. Women die from heart attacks at twice the rate of men. That’s why closing the gender gap–and conversation gap–in heart health is so important.
To help raise awareness, Hello Heart founder and CEO Maayan Cohen joined other women – including Arianna Huffington, the founder and CEO of Thrive Global and Asjia O’Neal, an NCAA volleyball star and heart attack survivor – in writing an open letter advocating for more attention on women’s heart health.
To learn more and pledge your support for women’s heart health, visit womenforhearthealth.org. You can spread the word – and if you’re so inclined, share your own heart health story – using the hashtag #WomensHeartHealth. Let’s work together towards gender equity in heart health.
Hello Heart is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment. You should always consult with your doctor about your individual care.
1. Gazit T, Gutman M, Beatty AL. Assessment of Hypertension Control Among Adults Participating in a Mobile Technology Blood Pressure Self-management Program. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(10):e2127008, https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.27008. Accessed October 19, 2022. (Some study authors are employed by Hello Heart. Because of the observational nature of the study, causal conclusions cannot be made. See additional important study limitations in the publication. This study showed that 108 participants with baseline blood pressure over 140/90 who had been enrolled in the program for 3 years and had application activity during weeks 148-163 were able to reduce their blood pressure by 21 mmHg using the Hello Heart program.) (2) Livongo Health, Inc. Form S-1 Registration Statement. https:/www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1639225/000119312519185159/d731249ds1.htm. Published June 28, 2019. Accessed October 19, 2022. (In a pilot study that lasted six weeks, individuals starting with a blood pressure of greater than 140/90 mmHg, on average, had a 10 mmHG reduction.) NOTE: This comparison is not based on a head-to-head study, and the difference in results may be due in part to different study protocols.
2. Validation Institute. 2021 Validation Report (Valid Through October 2022). https://validationinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Hello_Heart-Savings-2021- Final.pdf. Published October 2021. Accessed October 19, 2022. (This analysis was commissioned by Hello Heart, which provided a summary report of self-fundedemployer client medical claims data for 203 Hello Heart users and 200 non-users from 2017-2020. Findings have not been subjected to peer review.)