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Differences between heart disease in women and in men

4-minute read

Heart disease affects both sexes, but often goes undetected in women. While more men than women are admitted to hospital for heart attack, the numbers of deaths from heart attack in men and in women are roughly the same.

What is heart disease?

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) — often called 'heart disease' — is an umbrella term that includes diseases and conditions which affect the heart and blood vessels.

These include coronary heart disease (CHD) (also called 'coronary artery disease' and 'ischaemic heart disease'), heart failure, arrhythmias, angina and others.

CHD is a common cause of heart attack, which occurs when blood supply to the heart is suddenly interrupted.The heart needs a constant supply of oxygen-rich blood and if this is stopped, the heart muscles can get damaged and begin to die.

Why heart disease goes undiagnosed in women

Australian women are more likely to die from heart disease than breast cancer. This is partly because heart disease is often not recognised in women. The reasons for this include:

  • Women often develop symptoms of heart disease at a much later stage in the illness than men.
  • Symptoms can be more vague or non-specific.
  • Women are less likely to seek help quickly.
  • Some diagnostic tests for heart disease are less accurate in women than in men.
  • Some health professionals may be less likely to check for heart disease in women.

There is also less awareness of the risk of heart disease in females. Many Australian women (and men) mistakenly assume that heart disease mostly affects middle-aged men, which is not the case.

How men and women experience heart attack

Call triple zero (000) immediately and ask for an ambulance if you suspect that you or someone else is having a heart attack. If calling triple zero (000) does not work on your mobile phone, try 112.

Women and men can experience the signs and symptoms of a heart attack differently.

Men may experience:

Women may experience:

While chest pain is thought to be the most common symptom of heart attack — and it is common in men — only about half of all women who have a heart attack actually report chest pain.

Preventing heart disease in women and men

Women often focus on looking after partners, children or ageing parents, but it's important for women also to prioritise their own health.

In Australia, 9 in every 10 women have one risk factor for heart disease, and half of all women have 2 or 3 risk factors. The risk factors for heart disease in both in women and men include high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Women can also have the added risk factors of pre-eclampsia or gestational diabetes (during pregnancy), which may increase the chances of developing heart disease later in life.

Are you at risk?

Find out if you're at risk of heart disease, kidney disease or diabetes in just a few minutes using the healthdirect Risk Checker.

Whether you're a woman or a man, you will reduce your risk of developing heart disease if you:

For more information

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2019

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