Women are 2x more likely to die than men from complications of a heart attack1
We’ve all watched the classic “Hollywood heart-attack” scene. You know, the one where the actor dramatically clutches his chest before doubling over and collapsing onto the floor.
But in reality, having a heart attack doesn’t always play out as theatrically as it does on the silver screen—especially if you’re a woman. In the real world, the symptoms and signs of a heart attack don’t always look the same for women as they do for men. Too often, women’s symptoms are misdiagnosed, ignored, or go completely undetected.
In fact, a recent study found that women wait an average of 37 minutes longer to call for help when they are experiencing heart attack symptoms.2 And if they do get help, their symptoms aren’t clearly being linked to a heart attack because they are often misdiagnosed or dismissed. This may be one reason why, compared to men, women are twice as likely to die of a heart attack.3
So, let's set the record straight. Heart attacks happen to women every day. That's why it’s important to know the unique symptoms that women experience when having a heart attack, understand the risks, and take action.
Don't second guess your symptoms
Women and men can experience different symptoms when having a heart attack. Knowing the gender-specific signs of a heart attack could help save your life or the life of someone you love.
Know your symptoms, understand them, and know how to talk about them.
Why the difference?
The wider range of warning signs often lead to misdiagnoses or dismissal of women’s symptoms.
- Women have smaller hearts and narrower blood vessels – so heart disease can progress differently than it does for men.
- Women are more likely to have cholesterol build-up in the smallest blood vessels, while men typically develop plaque build-up in the largest arteries that supply blood to the heart.
Why do women’s risks increase as they get older?
Estrogen has a beneficial effect on women’s cardiovascular systems. This can help protect younger women from atherosclerosis (build-up of plaque in the arteries).
After women reach menopause, this protective factor is diminished due to the hormonal changes that occur. As a result, the incidence of heart disease and stroke among menopausal women are higher. The prevalence of hypertension in women over 75 is also higher among women than men.1
How to explain symptoms to your doctor
- Describe how you feel. Use descriptive words like dull, sharp, throbbing, or stabbing.
- Include the location of symptoms. Be as specific as possible.
- Mention the duration of symptoms. Explain how long you’ve had the symptoms.
- Explain things that make the pain come about and go away.
- Note the frequency of symptoms. This can help the doctor determine the cause.
Take it seriously.
Cardiovascular disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined.
According to the CDC, only about half of women realize that heart disease is their #1 killer, accounting for 1 in every 5 female deaths in the United States. And while a lot of effort and money has gone into raising awareness of other women's health issues, like breast cancer, over the years, the numbers show that women are in fact 7 times more likely to die from heart disease than breast cancer.4
A little knowledge can make a big difference.
Being educated about symptoms and causes could save your life.
Now that you know the symptoms of heart attacks in women (and men), share them with your friends and family to spread awareness. This way, they’ll be able to recognize the signs, which could mean the difference between life and death.
Take preventive action.
High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for heart attacks, so make sure you monitor yours. Also make sure to stay informed about other risk factors such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking.
Hello Heart can help you track and better understand your numbers.
To stay in control of your heart health, consider starting to track your blood pressure regularly. Knowing your numbers can help you take the right steps with your doctor to manage your blood pressure if it's too high.
Users of Hello Heart have been able to reduce their systolic BP 22 mmHg on average in 12 months.5 (A 20-point decrease in systolic blood pressure cuts the risk of heart failure in half!6)
Who’s eligible for Hello Heart?
CVS Colleagues, pre-Medicare retirees, spouses/partners, and dependents age 18+ who are covered on a CVS Health sponsored medical plan, and either have blood pressure readings of 130/80 mmHg or above or are taking blood pressure medication, are eligible to enroll.
Sign up for free today
Click here to sign up for the Hello Heart program, and get a free blood pressure monitor shipped directly to your door.
Connect the monitor to an easy-to-use Hello Heart app that helps you regularly track, understand, and manage your blood pressure – all from the privacy of your phone.
2. Gender differences in patient and system delay for primary percutaneous coronary intervention:Current trends in a Swiss ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction population.Our Heart J Acute Cardiovascular Care. 2019;8(3):283-290 http://doi.org Accessed May 31, 2022.
3. Shah T, Haimi I, Yang Y, Gaston S, Taoutel R, Mehta S, Lee HJ, Zambahari R, Baumbach A, Henry TD, Grines CL, Lansk A, Tirziu D. Meta-Analysis of Gender Disparities in In-hospital Care and Outcomes in Patients with ST-Segment Elevation Myocardial Infarction. Am J Cardiol.2021;147:23-32 https://doi.org Accessed May 31, 2022.
4. Based on cause of death data from the following sources: (1) LCWk1. Deaths, percent of total deaths, and death rates for the 15 leading causes of death in 5-year age groups, by race and Hispanic origin, and sex: United States, 2017. CDC Web site. https://CDC.gov Published December 31, 2018. Accessed May 31, 2022. (2) CDC WONDER Online Database: About Underlying Cause of Death, 1999-2019. CDC Web site. https://wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html Published 2020. Accessed May 31, 2022.
5. Large Retailer Blood Pressure Readings Data: 2018-2019; analysis conducted by Hello Heart
6. Law MR, Morris JK, Wald NJ. Use of blood pressure lowering drugs in the prevention of cardiovascular disease: meta-analysis of 147 randomized trials in the context of expectations from prospective epidemiological studies. BMJ. 2009 May 19;338:b16656. Basile JN. Systolic blood pressure: It is time to focus on systolic hypertension—especially in older people. BMJ. 2002; 325(7370): 917–918. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.325.7370.917. Accessed August 29, 2022.