Kathleen Drinan and patient

Experts Who Deliver Individualized Treatments for Women

Women with heart disease can be affected differently than men. For instance, women are more likely to experience unique and even atypical symptoms of heart disease. Women also may not react the same to treatment that works for a man.

Cardiologists at the University Chicago of Medicine are experts in understanding the diverse challenges facing women with heart disease. We are committed to putting women at the forefront of heart care. We can be the health care partner women can trust to when they are wrestling with complex or worrisome conditions. And together, we will make the best decisions for your individual treatment.

What To Know About Heart Disease in Women

Many women underestimate their risk for heart disease and overestimate their risk for cancer. But while cancer is a serious health concern, heart disease is far more common than cancer in women. In fact, nearly twice as many American women die of heart attack or stroke than from all forms of cancer combined – including breast cancer.

Women may underestimate their risk because heart disease is more prevalent later in life in women. On average, the risk of death due to heart disease in women is equal to that of men 10 years younger.

Women also experience heart disease differently than men. Often the signs and symptoms of heart problems – especially for coronary artery disease and heart attack – are overlooked as indigestion or hormonal changes.

Studies show that women are less likely to seek care when they experience chest pain or other symptoms of heart problems. This may be because women are often unaware of the sometime subtle signs of heart disease and heart attack.

Just as in men, chest pain is a common symptom for heart attack in women. But there are other, atypical signs that are more common in women than men. Women often report feeling short of breath, or having pain in the back, neck or jaw. Other frequently seen symptoms of heart attack in women are fatigue, nausea and vomiting.

The risks for heart disease in men and women are similar, though some risks are more serious for women. The major risk factors include:

  • Smoking: Smoking is the leading preventable cause of heart disease in women. More than 50 percent of heart attacks in women are related to tobacco use.
  • Overweight: Being more than 20 pounds overweight greatly increases your risk for heart problems.
  • High blood pressure: More than 60 percent of all women older than age 65 have high blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol: All women older than age 20 should have their cholesterol levels checked.
  • Inactivity: Being sedentary can greatly increase your risk for heart disease. Even a simple, regular walking program can boost your heart health.
  • Diabetes: Women with diabetes are three to seven times more likely to have heart disease. This is in contrast to a two- to threefold increase in heart disease for men with diabetes.
  • Ethnicity: Black women have a higher incidence of heart disease than white women.

Regardless of your age or if you are a woman or man, talk to your physician about heart disease. Ask your doctor about what you can do to reduce your risk. Discuss your personal health history and inform your doctor if you have a family history of early death from heart disease. Fortunately, it's never too early or too late to reduce your risk.