Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a disease of the heart and blood vessels. CVD is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, accounting for 1 in 3 female deaths. Significant differences exist between men and women in CVD, from the symptoms they present with during a heart attack, to the effectiveness of aspirin in preventing harmful CVD outcomes.  Understanding these differences is imperative to finding and implementing targeted treatments and prevention strategies

Numbers and Statistics

  • More women than men die of CVD each year.
  • 8 million women are currently living with some form of CVD.
  • The mortality rate from coronary artery disease, a form of CVD, is 69% higher in African American women than in Caucasian women, and the mortality rate from high blood pressure is 352% higher in African American women than in Caucasian women.
  • 26% of women who have their first heart attack over the age of 45 will die within a year as compared to 19% of men.

Sex and Gender Differences

  • Myocardial infarction (MI), or heart attack, can occur on average up to 20 years later in women than in men.
  • Women tend to not experience chest pains as often, if at all, during acute MI as compared to men. Because physicians still consider chest pains as the main symptom of acute MI, many women are misdiagnosed and prematurely discharged from care. Symptoms of MI in women may include fatigue, sleep disturbance, shortness of breath, indigestion, and anxiety.
  • Women present with a different type of atherosclerosis, or the buildup of harmful plaque in the arteries, than men. They type of atherosclerosis women present with often goes undetected by commonly used diagnostic tools. This may contribute to the misdiagnosis of artery disease in women and premature discharge from care.

Research Update: 2015

  • Breastfeeding has a positive impact on the mother and child’s blood pressure level, both in the short term and the long term, and thus may help prevent cardiovascular disease.

More Resources

Get the Facts about Cardiovascular Disease

Sex Differences in Heart Disease