Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, refers to a series of problems that affect the heart. In the United States, 1 in 3 women die from heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), despite increases in awareness over the past decade, only 54 percent of women recognize that heart disease is the number one cause of American female death.
To better understand these dangerous conditions, these are five of the most common heart diseases amongst women in the United States.
Coronary artery disease
In both men and women, the most common cause of heart disease is the narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries—the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart itself. This condition is called coronary artery disease, or coronary heart disease, and it’s the most common cause of heart attacks. Women are more likely to die from a heart attack than men, but treatment is possible when medical attention is quickly received.
Complications of coronary heart diseases include angina (a type of chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart), heart attacks (a condition in which the heart suddenly stops beating), arrhythmia (a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat), and heart failure (a condition in which your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs).
Coronary microvascular disease
Also called cardiac syndrome X or non-obstructive coronary heart disease, coronary microvascular disease involves the damaging of the smaller arteries’ walls. The condition is more likely to affect women than men, potentially due to a drop in estrogen levels during menopause combined with other heart disease risk factors.
Valvular heart disease
Heart valve disease occurs when your heart’s valves are not functioning properly. There are several types of valve disease, which can occur if the valve openings are the wrong sizes (either too big or too small) or do not close tightly enough to restrict blood flow backwards.
Cardiomyopathy is the thickening of the heart muscle, most commonly at the septum between the ventricles, below the aortic valve. The condition leads to the stiffening of the walls of the heart and abnormal aortic and mitral heart valve function, both of which may hinder normal blood flow out of the heart.
Broken heart syndrome
Also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy, broken heart syndrome is a version of cardiomyopathy that is more common in women than in men. In this recently understood condition, extreme emotional stress can lead to severe, but usually brief, heart muscle failure. Although doctors may misdiagnose broken heart syndrome as a heart attack because of its similar symptoms, unlike coronary heart disease, there’s no evidence of blocked heart arteries in this syndrome.
The older a woman gets, the higher the risk that she will develop heart disease, but women of all ages should be concerned about dangerous heart conditions. Luckily, all women can take precautions by making healthy lifestyle choices. Talk to a medical professional to learn more about cardiovascular diseases and how to prevent them.