Woman smiling

Heart problem symptoms in females

11 November 2021

Although heart disease is often considered to be more of a problem for men, it is one of the most common causes of death for both women and men. However, symptoms of heart disease do differ between men and women which means that women often are unaware of what signs to look out for. 

There are many different heart problems or conditions that any gender can experience in their lifetime. These conditions are collectively referred to as heart disease. Heart disease includes:
  • Coronary Artery Disease. When the coronary arteries of the heart become narrow or blocked and are unable to supply enough blood to the heart. 
  • Heart Attack. When the blood supply to part of the heart muscle is completely blocked. 
  • Heart Failure. When the heart’s pumping action can’t work effectively and the heart muscle can’t meet the body’s demand for blood and oxygen.
  • Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythms). When the electrical signals within your heart are interrupted or disturbed, your heart can beat too quickly (called tachycardia), too slowly (called bradycardia) or in an irregular way..
  • Valve Disease. Problems with the valves can increase the workload of your heart and can put a strain on your heart muscle which can lead to a range of symptoms.
Chest pain, pressure or discomfort is the most common heart attack symptom in both men and women. It can last for a few minutes or more, or it can come and go. But chest pain is not always severe or even the most noticeable symptom, especially in women. Women often describe this symptom as pressure or tightness. It’s also worth noting that it is possible to have a heart attack without chest pain.

Women are also more likely than men to experience heart attack symptoms that are unrelated to chest pain. These can include:

  • Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in one or both arms
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Indigestion
Women’s symptoms also differ to that of men’s as women tend to have symptoms when resting or even when asleep. Emotional stress can play a role in triggering heart attack symptoms in women.
Because women don't always recognise their symptoms as those of a heart attack, they tend to show up in emergency rooms after heart damage has occurred. So it is hugely important to know and be aware of the signs and symptoms. Unfortunately, as symptoms differ so much for women, they are often undiagnosed when it comes to heart disease. 
Some of the more traditional risk factors for coronary artery disease such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity affect both women and men. But other risk factors can play a bigger role in the development of heart disease in women specifically.
  • Diabetes. Women with diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease than men with diabetes. Also, because diabetes can change the way you feel pain, you're at greater risk of having a silent heart attack — without symptoms.
  • Mental stress and depression. Stress and depression affect women's hearts more than men's. Depression makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow recommended treatment.
  • Smoking. Smoking is a greater risk factor for heart disease in women than it is in men.
  • Inactivity. A lack of physical activity is a major risk factor for heart disease. Some research has found women to be less active than men.
  • Menopause. Low levels of oestrogen after menopause pose a significant risk of developing disease in smaller blood vessels.
  • Pregnancy complications. High blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy can increase the long-term risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. These conditions can also make women more likely to get heart disease.
  • Family history of early heart disease. This appears to be a greater risk factor in women than in men.
  • Inflammatory diseases. Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and others can increase the risk of heart disease in both men and women.
  • Stop smoking and, if you don’t smoke, avoid exposure to second-hand smoke which also can damage blood vessels.
  • Exercise regularly even if it’s just a daily walk.
  • Maintain a healthy weight for you as advised by your doctor. If you are overweight, losing some weight can help to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of diabetes.
  • Eat healthily for your heart. Try to have a balanced diet with fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein sources. Avoid saturated or trans fats, added sugars, and high amounts of salt where possible.
  • Manage Stress levels. Stress can cause your arteries to tighten, which can increase your risk of heart disease, in particular, coronary microvascular disease.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption.
  • Take your necessary medications as prescribed, such as blood pressure medications, blood thinners and aspirin.
  • Manage other health conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes increase the risk of heart disease.
In general, heart disease treatment in women and in men is similar. It can include medications, angioplasty and stenting, or coronary bypass surgery. These treatments can be expensive and add extra stress at an already traumatic time. 

Heart problems can still occur even when all efforts are made to reduce the risk. Having critical illness insurance in place means that you are covered for treatments required for a number of heart problems. These include treatment for:

  • Coronary artery angioplasty/stenting
  • Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery
  • Major vascular surgery
You can choose to cover yourself, you and your partner, your children or your whole family with critical illness cover. You can also choose cover to be in place overseas only or both overseas and in-country. When it comes to making a claim for treatment you can also choose between accessing medical case management service and treatment benefits or a lump sum payment.
Find out more about Avenue, our International Critical Illness Insurance plan and get a quote from our expert team today.