Cardiovascular Issues in Women

Terry Hollenbeck, M.D. 

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women, responsible for more deaths each year than from all other causes combined. Between the ages of 45 to 65, one in nine women develops some form of cardiovascular disease. After age 65 the ratio climbs to one in three women.

In a recent study, 58% of women 55 or younger hospitalized for a heart attack didn’t suspect heart problems, despite having chest pain. In fact, some women never experience chest pain during a heart attack. Delayed treatment is one reason women are more likely to die after a heart attack than men.

The following are risk factors for women that should be discussed with your doctor:

- Prior history of heart disease

- Age over 55

- Family history of early heart disease

- Diabetes

- Smoking

- High blood pressure

- Elevated cholesterol/triglycerides

Obesity has been associated with increased cardiac mortality and weight loss is beneficial but repeated weight loss and weight gain called “weight cycling”, actually increases mortality. This is one of many reasons to lose weight and keep it off.

Common symptoms of heart attacks are chest pain often radiating to the left neck, jaw and shoulder, shortness of breath, nausea and sweating. Women having a heart attack even without chest pain may have the above symptoms as well as the following:

-Fatigue and trouble sleeping


-Pain in the jaw or teeth

-Feelings of anxiety

-Discomfort between the shoulder blades

-Sense of impending doom

Recommendations for women to reduce cardiovascular disease:

-Daily physical exercise

-Avoid cigarette smoking

-Weight reduction

-Healthy diet

-Treatment of high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol

If you have any of the above issues, I recommend that you work closely with your doctor to achieve a longer and healthier life.

Terry Hollenbeck, M.D., is a retired urgent care physican at Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz in Scotts Valley. Readers can view previous columns on his website,, or email

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