Updated: February 1, 2019
According to the Center of Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women, but it can present itself in different ways between the sexes. Knowing sex-based heart differences can help you better recognize the signs and symptoms of heart-related conditions.
Here are a few facts to get you up to speed on the basic differences between men and women’s hearts and heart-related conditions:
- Symptoms can differ.
Both men and women can experience the crushing chest pain associated with a heart attack, but women are more likely to experience subtler symptoms—like fatigue, nausea, and pain or discomfort in the jaw, stomach, neck or back. In fact, the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women initiative focuses specifically on awareness for women and heart disease, as well as stroke. Go Red provides several helpful resources including myths vs. facts for symptoms, risk factors for women and much more. As a reminder, male or female, if you or someone you know is experiencing what could be heart attack symptoms, take it seriously. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away.
- Severity and causes can differ.
According to Harvard Medical School, a heart attack in men is typically caused by the sudden rupture of a cholesterol-filled plaque in the coronary artery, but in women a plaque is more likely to slowly erode the vessel wall instead of suddenly bursting. This is also why women are more likely to have smaller, non-fatal heart attacks.
- Death rates can differ.
Despite experiencing smaller, non-fatal heart attacks more often, women under the age of 45 are still more likely to die within a year of their first heart attack compared to their male counterparts.
- Put out the cigarette: smoking impact can differ.
Smoking is harmful for both men and women, but women who smoke are twice as likely to experience a heart attack over men who smoke the same amount.
Differences aside, there are steps both men and women can take to improve their heart health. Eating a heart healthy diet, quitting smoking and tobacco use, exercising regularly and scheduling consistent checkups with your provider are just a few ways you can keep your heart in good health, in addition to knowing how gendered differences affect your cardiovascular health.
For regular exercise to improve overall cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. Thirty minutes a day, five times a week is an easy goal to remember. It feels even more achievable to hear that a half hour workout is just two percent of your day.
The easiest change you can make to positively improve your heart health is to start walking. It’s free, simple and a great exercise that can also be social when family or friends join. A walking program is flexible and has high success rates because it’s easy to stick with—it can become a regular, satisfying part of your weekly schedule.
While heart month is a great time for reminders, living a heart healthy lifestyle is something to strive for all year and an online tool or app can help keep you on track. At Priority Health, members have access to our Wellbeing Hub to keep healthy living top-of-mind throughout the year. The Wellbeing Hub offers a customizable menu with information and tools tailored to specific health and wellbeing needs. The personalized online hub helps members find new exercise ideas, tools to quit smoking, tips to lose weight, new heart healthy recipes to try and more—all customized to their individual journey.
Whatever tool helps keep you on track, take time this Valentine’s Day and throughout February to remind the ones you love to know the differences between men and women when it comes to heart health.