Heart Disease and Stroke

In 2005, heart disease was the leading cause of death among women. Heart disease describes any disorder that prevents the heart from functioning normally. The most common type of heart disease is coronary heart disease, in which the arteries of the heart slowly narrow, reducing blood flow to the heart muscle. Risk factors include obesity, lack of physical activity, smoking, high cholesterol, hypertension, and old age. While the most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain or discomfort, women are more likely than men to have symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, and back or jaw pain.1

Stroke is a type of heart disease that affects blood flow. Warning signs are sudden and can include facial, arm, or leg numbness, especially on one side of the body; severe headache; trouble walking; dizziness; a loss of balance or coordination; or trouble seeing in one or both eyes.ibid

In 2006, adult women were slightly less likely than men to have ever been told by a health professional that they have a heart condition or heart disease (10.5 versus 11.4 percent). This varied by race and ethnicity. Among non-Hispanic Whites and non-Hispanic other races, men were more likely than women to have heart disease. Among non-Hispanic Black, Hispanic, and Asian adults, however, women were more likely than men to have heart disease. Among women, non-Hispanic Whites were most likely to have heart disease (11.9 percent), compared to 9.6 percent of non-Hispanic Blacks, 6.0 percent of Hispanics, and 4.7 percent of Asians. While heart disease rates are highest among non-Hispanic White women, the death rate from heart disease is highest among non-Hispanic Black women.

Hospital discharges due to heart disease varied by sex and age. Overall, men experienced a higher rate of hospital discharges compared to women (206.0 versus 174.8 hospital discharges per 10,000 adults). Rates of hospital discharge also increased with age; for instance, the hospital discharge rate for women aged 75 years and older was 905.5 per 10,000 women, compared to 119.8 hospital discharges per 10,000 women aged 45–64 years.

1 American Heart Association. Heart Attack, Stroke, and Cardiac Arrest Warning Signs. 2007. www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=3053, accessed 02/15/08.

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