Women and Heart Disease

Learn about heart care for women, by women at Scripps

Learn about heart care for women, by women at Scripps

Heart disease kills women at an alarming rate and not enough is being done to stop it. Scripps is working to change that.


Cardiovascular disease takes the lives of nearly twice as many women as all forms of cancer combined. Unfortunately, many women (and men) don’t know important facts about risk factors, symptoms and prevention of women’s heart disease, and some of these misconceptions can be dangerous or even deadly.

Scripps Women’s Heart Center provides heart care for women, by women. Our female cardiologists are experts in cardiology and integrative medicine, and specialize in female heart disease. We’re dedicated to empowering women to take care of their hearts through education, lifestyle and, when needed, expert medical care.

Heart disease risk factors for women

Many factors increase the risk of heart disease, including family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, high sodium intake, smoking, being overweight and physical inactivity. In addition, certain conditions that only or primarily affect women also appear to influence heart disease risk, including gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, migraines with aura and autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Hormones, especially estrogen, may play a role in protecting women from heart disease, which suggests women’s risk for heart disease increases after menopause.

Another factor may be heart size and strength. Women have smaller hearts and faster heart rates than men. The right ventricle of the heart, which is responsible for pumping blood to the lungs to collect oxygen, is smaller in women and may be more vulnerable to damage.

Same condition, different symptoms

Both men and women may feel chest pain during a heart attack, but that is where most of the similarities end. Women tend to have subtler symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, neck or jaw pain and sudden dizziness – and some of these may begin up to a month before the attack. Because many of these symptoms can be associated with common illnesses such as the flu, women are more likely to brush them off or assume the cause is something less serious.

Women with heart disease often are not accurately diagnosed, nor do they receive the right care. Research shows that among heart patients, women were less likely than men to receive medications to help prevent further heart problems. Researchers, too, have focused primarily on men’s hearts. 

By partnering with a physician who understands the unique needs of women’s hearts, women can get the most appropriate heart care and disease prevention strategies.

Check out this infographic to learn more about heart disease in women (PDF, 1.2 MB).