Heart Disease - Doesn't Discriminate

Fall 2005 CSANews Issue 56  |  Posted date : May 23, 2007.Back to list

Many people think of heart disease as a male health problem. As a result, women sometimes ignore warning signs of heart disease – often with devastating results. But the reality is heart disease doesn't discriminate. It is a leading cause of death among Canadian men and women, with some important differences.

Age of Onset
The risk for heart disease in men begins to increase in their 40s, whereas, on average, women may be protected for another seven to 10 years. But women with a close relative – parent, sibling or child – who develops heart disease before age 55 (men) or 65 (women) are at increased risk even earlier. The same applies to women with other risk factors for heart disease including diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or those who smoke.

Physical Activity
Women are less likely to protect themselves with physical activity. More women (50%) than men (44%) are inactive – and an inactive woman has twice the risk of developing heart disease.

Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease in women to a greater extent than in men. The reason for this is not fully understood, but it may have something to do with the interaction of female hormones with blood sugar and insulin.

Different Warning Signals
The most common signal of a heart attack is severe chest pain or discomfort and a sudden inability to breathe. But women may be more likely to describe the pain as radiating up their neck, into the jaw or back, and to report nausea versus sweating.

To protect themselves, it is important for women to recognize all of the warning signals of a heart attack (see chart) and seek immediate medical attention. Signals may be mild or severe and may come and go, so don't take chances – seek immediate medical attention.

"Women who have any symptoms that could be heart-related should talk to their doctor," says Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson, Dr. Beth Abramson.

To find out more about women and heart disease and stroke, visit www.heartandstroke.ca.

Warning Signals
If you, or someone else, experience any of the following signals – either mild or severe – call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.


  • Sudden discomfort or pain that does not go away with rest
  • Pain may be in the chest, neck, jaw, shoulder, arms or back
  • Pain may feel like burning, squeezing, heaviness, tightness or pressure
  • In women, pain may be more vague


  • Anxiety
  • Denial

Shortness of Breath

  • Difficulty Breathing


  • Cool, clammy skin


Related links
Heart and Stroke Foundation