Heart and Vascular Disease

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For more complete information, see The Heart and Vascular Services Circle of Care.

Women and Heart Disease

In a time when many women dread breast cancer as the worst–possible diagnosis, many of us overlook the real killer. The reality is heart disease is a killer that strikes more women than men and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. While one in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, heart disease is the cause of one out of every three deaths. That’s roughly one death each minute.

Yes – breast cancer may get much more media coverage, but the fact is heart disease is not just for men anymore. While a man’s chance of developing heart disease is greater earlier in life, by the time a woman reaches the age of 60 and estrogen levels are on the decline, she runs the same risk of heart attack as a man.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, killing 289,758 women in 2013—that’s about 1 in every 4 female deaths. Although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a “man’s disease,” around the same number of women and men die each year of heart disease in the United States. Despite increases in awareness over the past decade, only 54% of women recognize that heart disease is their number 1 killer.

Heart disease is also the leading cause of death for African American and white women in the United States. Among Hispanic women, heart disease and cancer cause roughly the same number of deaths each year. For American Indian or Alaska Native and Asian or Pacific Islander women, heart disease is second only to cancer.

The symptoms of a heart attack can vary tremendously between men and women victims. While some women have no symptoms, others experience angina (dull, heavy to sharp chest pain or discomfort), pain in the neck/jaw/throat or pain in the upper abdomen or back. These may occur during rest, begin during physical activity, or be triggered by mental stress.

Women are more likely to describe chest pain that is sharp, burning and more frequently have pain in the neck, jaw, throat, abdomen or back.

Sometimes heart disease may be silent and not diagnosed until a woman experiences signs or symptoms of a heart attack, heart failure, an arrhythmia, or stroke.

It can be normal for women to feel “pings” or occasional sensations as changes in the chest wall occur during the aging process, but any atypical chest pain, or unusual stomach or abdominal pain should be looked at and evaluated as indicators of possible cardiac distress.

Unfortunately, women’s heart-related complaints are sometimes dismissed because they don’t fit the traditional signs and symptoms. But today, as research re-focuses on women’s experience, the healthcare establishment has recognized that different patients can experience the same conditions in very different ways. So what can you do?

Since prevention is always the best prescription, talk to your healthcare provider to identify your individual risk factors and the best way to manage them.

  • Stop smoking!
  • Monitor your cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
  • Ask your healthcare provider about whether you should be tested for diabetes. Having uncontrolled diabetes raises your chances of heart disease.
  • Watch your weight and make healthy food choices.
  • Limit alcohol intake to one drink a day.
  • Lower your stress level and find healthy ways to cope with stress.
  • Commit to exercise.

What is Heart and Vascular Disease?

Heart disease refers to problems affecting your heart and coronary arteries. Heart disease can affect heart rate, rhythm, valves, and the heart muscle.

Examples of heart disease:

  • blood clots
  • congenital heart defects
  • heart attack
  • irregular heartbeat
  • heart failure

Vascular disease refers to problems affecting your blood vessels (arteries and veins outside the heart). Vascular disease often occurs because of narrowing of the vessels that carry blood to the legs, arms, kidneys and other vital organs.

Examples of vascular disease:

  • Carotid artery disease
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD)
  • Stroke

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Source: Women and Heart Disease Fact Sheet

If you need a physician, consult the physician search or call Hunterdon Medical Center’s Physician Referral Service at 1-800-511-4462.

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