Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women over age 25 in the United States, regardless of race or ethnicity. The death rate from cardiovascular diseases has decreased among men but continues to increase in women.

Unfortunately, only 1 in 3 women identify the cardiovascular disease as the greatest health problem facing women today. Most women think that cancer is the leading cause of death in women. But, cardiovascular disease is the single leading cause of death for women in America and claims the lives of more women than all forms of cancer combined.

What causes cardiovascular disease?

Cardiovascular disease is a broad term that includes a variety of heart and blood vessel conditions, such as coronary artery disease, peripheral arterial disease, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, heart valve disease, vascular disease, aorta disease, heart failure, cardiomyopathy, abnormal heart rhythms, congenital heart disease, and many other heart and blood vessel conditions.

The most common cause of cardiovascular disease is atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the build-up of cholesterol and fatty deposits (called plaque) on the inner walls of the arteries that restricts blood flow to the heart (coronary artery disease).

Without adequate blood, the heart becomes starved of oxygen and the vital nutrients it needs to work properly. This is called ischemia. Ischemia causes symptoms of heart disease, such as chest pain or angina; and when one or more of the coronary arteries becomes completely blocked, a heart attack (injury to the heart muscle) can occur.

What are the symptoms of cardiovascular disease in women?

Symptoms of cardiovascular disease tend to occur about 10 years later in women than in men. While chest pain or discomfort is the most common symptom of a heart attack, women often have different symptoms of coronary artery disease than men.

Symptoms of a heart attack in women include:

  • Pain or discomfort in the chest left arm, or back
  • Unusually rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or fatigue

It is important to get help right away if any of these symptoms occur. The most common symptom of cardiovascular disease is called “angina pectoris” or “angina.” Angina is often referred to as chest pain.

It is described as chest discomfort, heaviness, tightness, pressure, aching, burning, numbness, fullness or squeezing. It can be mistaken for indigestion or heartburn. Angina is usually felt in the chest, but may also be felt in the left shoulder, arms, neck, back or jaw. Other symptoms that can occur with coronary artery disease include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations (irregular heartbeats, skipped beats or a “flip-flop” feeling in your chest)
  • A faster heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Extreme weakness
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Sudden sweating or sweating when there is no real cause (cold, clammy feeling)

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to call your doctor, especially if these are new symptoms or if they have become more frequent or severe.

Clinicians and researchers are pushing the envelope to better diagnose, treat and prevent heart and circulatory diseases. Improving detection and technology could transform care for the patients.

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