10 Things Every Woman Needs to Know About Her Heart

  • two boys embracing mother on cold winter day
    Love your heart, and it will love you back.
    You probably don’t think about your heart on a daily basis. Yes, it beats faster when you chase your kids or your partner brings you roses, and it races during scary movies. But you might not really think about ways to protect your heart's health. Luckily, a little knowledge can go a long way toward preventing heart disease. Here’s what you need to know.

  • woman with hand painted on heart
    1. Heart disease is the leading killer of women.
    Heart disease, specifically coronary heart disease, kills one in four women. Yet other health conditions, like breast cancer, often garner greater public awareness and attention. That means taking steps to prevent heart disease should be at the top of every woman's health-related to-do list.



  • woman-having-blood-pressure-checked-by-nurse
    2. Heart health numbers matter.
    You probably get your blood pressure checked every time you go to the doctor . And you should have your cholesterol checked every five years after age 20. For optimal heart health, keep your blood pressure below 120/80. And aim for total cholesterol below 200 mg/dL, LDL cholesterol below 100 mg/dL, HDL cholesterol above 50 mg/dL, and triglycerides below 150 mg/dL.



  • Explaining the dosage and effects - Senior Care
    3. Your heart disease risk factors are cumulative.
    Are you obese or overweight, a smoker, or physically inactive? Do you have diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure? Each one is a heart disease risk factor. More than three out of four women age 40 or older have at least one risk factor and each additional one significantly increases your overall risk. So talk with your doctor about reducing your risk.



  • Close-up of birth control pills in two plastic tablet dispenser cases
    4. Hormones can influence heart health risk factors.
    Estrogen provides some protection from heart disease until after menopause, when women lose estrogen. In addition, the hormones in birth control pills may play a role in heart disease risk. Taking the pill may increase your heart disease risk if you smoke, are older than 35, or have other risk factors. In healthy women who don’t smoke, birth control pills are generally safe.



  • Family
    5. Your family health history matters.
    Your heart disease risk goes up if a close male relative had heart disease before age 55 or if a close female relative had it before age 65. Your family can pass along genetic risk of heart disease, as well as diet and lifestyle habits. You can’t control your genes, but you can cook your family’s favorite dishes in heart-healthy ways and get active as a family.



  • smiling-woman-wearing-blouse
    6. Healthy habits prevent heart disease.
    Did you know that inactive people are nearly twice as likely to have coronary heart disease? You can boost your heart health by being physically active, achieving a healthy weight, getting your cholesterol levels and blood pressure into the healthy range, and quitting if you smoke.



  • Slide 7: Social: Heart Health Month: 10 Things Women Should Know About Their Heart
    7. Your waistline affects your heart.
    A body mass index (BMI) greater than 24.9 , combined with a waist measurement greater than 35 inches will drive up your heart disease risk. A healthy diet and exercise regimen will help get both numbers under control. Ask your doctor to calculate your BMI, or use an online adult BMI calculator.



  • Slide 8: Social: Heart Health Month: 10 Things Women Should Know About Their Heart
    8. Controlling diabetes helps keep your heart healthy.
    Diabetes increases your heart disease risk because high blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels everywhere in your body—including your heart. Controlling diabetes, which means getting both blood sugar and A1C levels down to the goal you and your doctor set, helps protect your heart from further damage.



  • Woman sleeping
    9. Your heart needs rest.
    Sleep disorders, particularly sleep apnea, increase your risk of heart disease. See your doctor if you are having problems falling or staying asleep, or if you have daytime sleepiness and people in your family say you snore excessively. You may need help from a sleep specialist.



  • Mature woman with chest pain
    10. Heart attack symptoms are subtle.
    Typical stereotypes of chest pain and collapse could blind you to the symptoms of a heart attack in women, which more frequently include dizziness, nausea or indigestionshortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest, fainting, back pain, and exhaustion. Don’t hesitate: Call 911 if you experience any of these warning signs.



  • woman-holding-baseball-bats
    11. Key takeaways
    The most important thing to know is whether you have heart disease risk factors. It’s not just high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and smoking. It’s also your waistline, BMI, and your level of physical activity. You can ask your doctor for heart disease risk assessment. There are several online tools to calculate your risk, but you need to know your numbers—blood pressure and cholesterol levels, among other things. Do your best to minimize your risk factors, take care of yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family for help.



10 Things Every Woman Needs to Know About Her Heart
  1. How Does Heart Disease Affect Women? National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hdw/
  2. Who Is at Risk for Heart Disease? National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hdw/atrisk.html
  3. What Your Cholesterol Levels Mean. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/AboutCholesterol/What-Your-Cholesterol-Levels-M...
  4. Prevention and Treatment of High Cholesterol. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/PreventionTreatmentofHighCholesterol/Prevention...
  5. Heart Attack Symptoms in Women. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/WarningSignsofaHeartAttack/Heart-Attack-Symptom...
  6. Women and Heart Disease. Texas Heart Institute. http://www.texasheart.org/HIC/Topics/HSmart/women.cfm
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Last Review Date: 2021 May 29
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.