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Heart disease health centre

Women and heart health

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

If you’re like most women, a healthy heart is something you take for granted. And when you hear the words heart attack, you’re more likely to think of your spouse than yourself.

Heart disease is a leading cause of death for women in the UK, yet the British Heart Foundation says far too many women do not take the risk of heart disease seriously and are failing to take steps to prevent it.

Here are 12 tips for a healthy heart:

Be realistic about your risk

One of the problems with women and heart disease is they think it is a man’s disease and do not think they are at risk.

Risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol, being overweight and not doing enough exercise apply to women and men.

Know what a heart attack feels like

Many women are aware of the symptoms of a heart attack, such as chest pains, sweating, shortness of breath, neck and jaw pain, upper back pain, abdominal pain, fatigue, vomiting, indigestion-like pain or nausea. However, a survey for the British Heart Foundation suggested that 59% of women having one of those symptoms wouldn’t talk to anyone about it because they don’t think it’s serious or important.

Some research suggests that one classic heart attack symptom, chest pain, may not be experienced by most women.

Stop smoking now

Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. Quit now, with help from the NHS.

Start your healthy-heart check-ups as early as possible

The British Heart Foundation says if you're over 40 you should ask your doctor or nurse for a heart health check. This will assess the risk of having a heart attack sometime in the next 10 years.

If a parent had a heart attack or heart disease, that family heart history puts you at an increased risk.

Whittle away your waist

Where you store your fat plays a role. Women who carry their weight around the middle, as opposed to the bottom, hips and thighs, are at greater risk of heart disease.

So if you have a spare tyre or muffin top, a healthy diet and exercise can help shift it.

Say no to trans fats

Trans fats are chemically altered vegetable oils. They are produced artificially in a process called hydrogenation which turns liquid oil into solid fat. They are cheap, add bulk and give products a long shelf life, but have no nutritional value.

To lower heart disease risk, cut down on trans fats by avoiding fried foods and eating fewer processed foods. Instead, women should include good fats in their diet, including olive oil, flaxseed oil and walnuts.


High cholesterol is a risk factor for both sexes but women may be more vulnerable than men. Women with "good" cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) levels lower than 1.0 mmol/L - and triglycerides above 1.7 mmol/L - may be at higher risk of heart disease than men with similar numbers.

Aerobic exercise helps boost your "good" cholesterol and lower the blood fats known as triglycerides. Exercise also helps reduce blood pressure and helps achieve a healthy weight.

The NHS advises doing 150 minutes of exercise a week and on as many days as possible.

You don’t have to do very intense exercise every time, housework or a brisk walk still counts.

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