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Heart disease and women

In the United States, almost one in four women dies from heart disease. Heart disease is the most common cause of death in American women.1 Some types of heart problems are more common in women.

What is heart disease?

“Heart disease” refers to several types of problems that affect the heart. The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD). Heart disease is also called cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease includes diseases of the blood vessels, which carry blood to different parts of your body. These include coronary artery disease, vascular (peripheral artery) disease, and stroke.

What is coronary artery disease?

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is also called coronary heart disease. CAD is the most common type of heart disease. In CAD, plaque builds up on the walls of the arteries that carry blood to the heart muscle. Over time, this buildup causes the arteries to narrow and harden, a process called atherosclerosis (ath-UH-roh-skluh-ROH-sis). Atherosclerosis prevents the heart from getting all the blood and oxygen it needs. This can lead to angina (an-JEYE-nuh), or chest pain.

What are some common types of heart problems that affect women?

  • Atherosclerosis. This condition happens when plaque buildup in the arteries over time causes the arteries to narrow and harden. When the plaque wears down or breaks open, a blood clot may develop. If the clot blocks blood flow to the heart, it can cause a heart attack.
  • Heart failure. This happens when the heart is not able to pump blood through the body as well as it should. Heart failure is a serious medical problem because many organs, such as the lungs and kidneys, are no longer able to get the blood they need. Heart failure symptoms include:
    • Shortness of breath
    • Swelling in feet, ankles, and legs
    • Extreme fatigue (tiredness)
  • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia [uh-RITH-mee-uh]). Arrhythmias are problems with the rate or rhythm of your heartbeat. Your heart may beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. Changes in heartbeats are harmless for most people. As you get older, you are more likely to have arrhythmias, partly as a result of changing estrogen levels.2 It’s normal to feel a few flutters or for your… read more.


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