Heart Disease Is the No. 1 Cause of Death in Women

By: Emory Women's Heart Center
Date: Sep 22, 2023

What is Your Risk?

More than 60 million women in the United States (that’s 44%) live with some form of heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Heart disease ranks as the leading cause of death in women (and men), and it can affect women of any age. 

While the heart attack rate has decreased in older adults, it is on the rise in younger women (ages 35-54). That is the bad news.

The good news: You can prevent most heart disease—up to 90%. Knowing your risk is an essential first step. And so is finding a cardiologist (heart doctor) who specializes in women’s heart health. 

“Heart disease in women is not the same as heart disease in men,” says Carolina Gongora, MD, a cardiologist at Emory Women’s Heart Center. “Women’s risk factors are different, and sometimes their symptoms are, too. Women often respond differently to treatment as well. When women receive specialized heart care at centers like ours, the data show better outcomes.” 

Emory Women’s Heart Center provides care for women who already know they have heart disease and those who may be at risk and want to learn more. Our experienced team is trained specifically in heart disease in women, and includes: 

  • Cardiologists
  • Nurse practitioners
  • Nurses
  • Nutritionists

“Our team provides heart disease prevention strategies, diagnosis and treatment,” Dr. Gongora says. “The first step is a thorough assessment to determine whether a woman has low, medium or high risk. Then, we provide education and resources to help them lower their risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases. When a woman needs treatment, she can be confident that our team will provide the most advanced tests and treatment options.”  

When It Comes to Heart Disease Risk, Women Are Special

Women should be aware of their heart disease risk and do all they can to minimize it. Most of us know diet and exercise play an important role. But did you know certain health conditions increase a woman’s likelihood of developing heart disease? These include: 

  • Autoimmune diseases—including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis 
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Hypertension
  • Menopause
  • Obesity
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)

Doctors have linked certain pregnancy-related complications with heart disease later in life, Dr. Gongora adds. Some of these complications include:  

  • Gestational diabetes  
  • Gestational high blood pressure 
  • Preeclampsia and eclampsia 
  • Pregnancy loss
  • Premature delivery

Dr. Gongora cares for many pregnant women and women who want to get pregnant and are concerned about an existing heart condition or increased risk of heart disease. “I like to help these young women manage their heart health so they can be as active and healthy as possible for their children and families in years to come,” she says.

Three Things You Can Do To Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease

Left untreated, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other types of heart disease can worsen, which makes them harder to control. Dr. Gongora encourages all women to take these three critical steps to protect their heart health. 

  • Talk to your primary care provider about your heart disease risk factors. If concerned, make an appointment with Emory Women’s Heart Center to learn more. 
  • If you have an existing medical condition (such as diabetes or PCOS) that could increase your risk for heart disease, work with your health care team to manage it.  
  • Address any lifestyle habits that risk your heart health.

“I can’t emphasize enough the importance of lifestyle habits like a healthy diet and physical activity,” Dr. Gongora says. “Your genes and family history play a role, but more than half the time, obesity is the root cause of heart disease. A nutritious diet and physical activity can dramatically improve your heart health and lower your risk for disease. And remember, if you smoke, do everything in your power to quit. Smoking is also a major risk factor for heart disease.”

What Warning Signs Women Should Never Ignore? 

Heart disease does not always have symptoms—we call high blood pressure the “silent killer” for that reason. But if you experience any of the symptoms below, seek medical care—especially if the symptoms are new and especially noticeable. 

  • Chest heaviness, pressure, pain or discomfort
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Upper body discomfort
  • Upper back or neck pain 

Concerned About Your Heart Health Risk? Count on the Experts at Emory Women’s Heart Center

For more information or to make an appointment with a physician who specializes in women’s heart disease, please call 404-778-7777 or use our online scheduling form.
Schedule your appointment today.


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