Heart Disease Conditions & Treatments for Women

There is no doubt that men and women are wired differently in many ways. But how do these differences impact the female heart? Most importantly, what conditions and complications do women need to be aware of when choosing who to trust with their heart and vascular care? Here are just a few:

Heart Attack Symptoms, Reactions Can Differ

The most common heart attack symptom for both men and women is chest pain or discomfort. Women, however, experience other symptoms somewhat more often than men, especially shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain. Women are also more likely to ignore the symptoms of a heart attack, delaying treatment and putting themselves at higher risk for complications, including death.

Risk Increases After Menopause

The risk for heart disease increases for women after menopause, likely due to a tendency toward elevated cholesterol levels at that time. Men have a greater risk for coronary artery disease and heart attacks earlier in life.

Depression Multiplies Risk

Studies have shown that women with depression may be more than twice as likely to experience sudden cardiac death, and 37 percent more likely to die of heart disease, compared to women without depression. Antidepressants may strongly contribute to the increased risk, which is why it is vital for women dealing with depression to work with their physicians to safeguard their heart health.

Pregnancy Can Complicate Heart and Vascular Care

Conditions that occur during pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and high blood pressure can put a strain on a woman’s heart. They can also increase her risk of heart disease later in life. Preeclampsia doubles a woman’s risk of heart disease at midlife; gestational diabetes often paves the way for glucose intolerance and other prediabetic conditions that can contribute to heart disease later in life. Women who become pregnant later in life are often more prone to complications.

In general, diagnosing and treating heart disease during pregnancy presents challenges. Different diagnostic approaches may be required to avoid exposing the baby to X-rays and imaging drugs. Treatments, including medications, must be carefully approached to improve the health of the mother while safeguarding the health of the baby.

On rare occasions, pregnancy can lead to a condition called postpartum cardiomyopathy, or pregnancy-associated heart failure. The condition usually develops during the last month of pregnancy or within five months after delivery. Women with this condition have no prior underlying heart disease, and no other identifiable reason to develop heart disease.

Coronary Artery Tears More Common

Coronary dissection, spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) or a tear in the coronary artery is a rare and life-threatening condition that most often affects young women without traditional risk factors for heart disease. In fact, 80 percent of SCAD cases are in women. The condition may be related to female hormone levels, as it is often but not always seen in post-partum women, or in women during or very near menstruation.

Breast Cancer Treatments Target the Chest

Several breast cancer treatments may cause heart problems, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapies and some hormone therapies. Close monitoring of heart health is advised for all women undergoing breast cancer treatment.

Special Needs for Female Heart Transplant Patients

Women who undergo heart transplants face a multitude of distinctive needs following the procedure. With the help of knowledgeable physicians, women can navigate the transplant-complicated challenges of reproduction, depression, the stress of family and care-giving, exercise, aging and menopause. Learn more about the expert care available for heart transplant patients through the Advanced Heart Failure and Cardiac Transplantation Program at Froedtert & the Medical College.


For women's heart and vascular care:

  • 414-805-3666
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Heart & Vascular Center, Froedtert Hospital 9200 W. Wisconsin Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53226

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