Men vs. Women: How Does Heart Disease Differ Between Genders

You have probably heard the statistic that heart disease is responsible for one in every three deaths for both men and women. But did you know that there are substantial differences in terms of risks and symptoms between the two genders?

How Heart Disease Differs Between Men and Women

"Most of what we know about diagnosis and treatment of heart disease comes from research done on middle-aged men, so we are extrapolating from that data," says Dr. Nadita Scott, a cardiologist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

We wanted to highlight some of the major differences in which men and women experience heart disease so you can make more informed decisions on how to keep your heart healthy and strong!

Risks Differences Between Men and Women

There are several risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity that play a major factor in heart disease between men and women. However, some of these factors play a bigger role than others:

Gender. Unfortunately, heart disease doesn’t have a preference of gender. Interestingly, men tend to have a greater risk of having a heart attack, even at younger ages.

Age. Heart disease can affect people of all ages, but it is most common in older adults and seniors. A man’s risk for developing heart disease begins nearly 7 years before a woman’s. On average, a first heart attack for men—strikes men at age 65. For women, the average age of a first heart attack is 72.

Diabetes. Adults living with diabetes are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease or a stroke than adults without diabetes. But women with diabetes are at a much greater risk of heart disease than men with diabetes.

Stress and Depression. Depression makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle because of low moods and fatigue which leads to unmotivated efforts to preform physical activity and choose unhealthy eating habits. Women are more genetically predisposed to stress related heart conditions and depression than men.

Broken Heart Syndrome. Also known as Tako-tsubo cardiomyopathy, is a response from emotional stress that can cause severe, but usually temporary, heart muscle failure that mimics a heart attack. This condition occurs more commonly in postmenopausal women.

Pregnancy complications. Women with high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy can increase long-term risk of development of heart disease in mothers.

Early Signs of Heart Disease

Early Signs of Heart Disease

In the early stages, symptoms that seem like mere annoyances may come and go. But awareness and prevention are crucial for tackling early signs of heart disease. A few common symptoms: 

  • Difficulty catching your breath after moderate physical exertion, like walking up a flight of stairs
  • Discomfort or squeezing in your chest that lasts for 30 minutes to a few hours
  • A faster, slower, or more irregular heartbeat than usual 
  • Dizziness or fainting

These symptoms can be signs that your blood vessels are narrowing due to plaque buildup. That buildup makes it difficult for your heart to circulate oxygenated blood throughout your body.

Heart Attack and Strokes Symptoms Between Men and Women

Heart Attack. Occurs when heart conditions have reached the point where blood stops flowing to the muscle of the heart.

The most common sign of heart attack in men is chest discomfort that includes squeezing, pressure, or pain present in your chest arms, back, neck, abdomen, or jaw. Women are more likely to have atypical symptoms, such as nausea, dizziness, and fatigue.

Women also tend to delay seeking medical treatment. One study found a delay time of about 54 hours for women, compared with about 16 hours for men. One idea behind this is that women believe that they are not having a heart attack because that is a primarily “male medical condition".

Heart Attack Symptoms for Men and Women

Stroke. A suddden disabling attack or loss of consciousness caused by an interruption of blood flow to the brain

Symptoms in Men: difficultly speaking, problems with vision, trouble walking, and numbness in the face, arms, legs, and severe headaches

Symptoms in Women: sudden face and limb pain, shortness of breath, nausea, and heart palpitations

About 425,000 women have a stroke every year—55,000 more than men. This may be the result of women having a longer average life span, but can also be attributed to unique internal and external factors for women such as the effects of stress, hormonal birth control, pregnancy, and childbirth.

Stay Heart Healthy

Both men and women alike can stay heart healthy through basic lifestyle choices such as getting regular physical activity, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a normal body weight. Being aware of the gender differences related to heart disease gives you an added advantage to improving your cardiovascular health.

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