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Women and heart disease

Many women wrongly assume heart disease is a condition more associated with men. However, coronary heart disease is the second most common cause of death for women in the UK after dementia. Women are more likely to die from heart disease than they are from breast cancer.

Here are some major causes of heart disease in women.


Women smokers may be at an increased risk of heart disease than men. A study published in 2011 in the Lancet suggested the risk of getting heart disease because of smoking is 25% higher for women. One theory is that toxins in cigarette smoke may have more of an effect on women.


The loss of natural oestrogen as women age and go through menopause may contribute to the higher risks of heart disease. Heart disease risks also increase with age.


For many years, it was thought that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) helped reduce the risk of heart disease in women, but more recent studies suggest this is not the case.

The Pill

Although not directly linked to heart disease, the contraceptive pill can sometimes increase a woman's blood pressure. This in turn could contribute to heart failure.

High cholesterol

Having high cholesterol or a less than healthy diet containing too many fatty foods is bad for the heart.

Lack of exercise

Doing exercise, whether at the gym, or hard work in the garden, can help protect the heart. UK guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of exercise a week.

Being overweight or obese

Carrying excess pounds means the heart has to work harder. Maintaining a healthy weight is better for the heart.


People with diabetes have a higher risk of heart disease, so it is important to keep diabetes managed well.


Heart disease risks can be higher if a close family member has or had heart disease: mum, dad, brother or sister.

A person's ethnic background can also make a difference to their heart disease risk. People from a South Asian or black African background are at a higher risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.

Heart attack symptoms

Women experience different heart attack symptoms to men, with fewer women experiencing chest pain. On average, women wait longer before calling 999 after experiencing heart attack symptoms. Experts say this may be because they are less likely to recognise symptoms or may not want to cause a fuss. No one with heart attack symptoms should delay getting urgent medical help.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on February 19, 2017

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