U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration

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Heart Disease and Stroke

In 2006, heart disease was the leading cause of death among both men and 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. While the most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain or discomfort, women are more likely than men to have other symptoms, such as shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, and back or jaw pain.1

In 2008, nearly 12 percent of adults reported that a health professional had ever told them they have a heart condition or heart disease and 4.1 percent reported that they had had coronary heart disease (data not shown). While overall, men were more likely than women to have had coronary heart disease (5.4 versus 3.0 percent, respectively), this was only true for non-Hispanic Whites (6.7 versus 3.3 percent, respectively). There were no differences between non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic men and women.

Stroke is a type of cardiovascular disease that affects blood flow to the brain. 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.1

In 2008, 2.9 percent of adults reported that they had ever been diagnosed with a stroke (data not shown). This rate did not vary by sex. Among both men and women, however, the proportion of persons ever having had a stroke increases with age. Among women, those aged 75 and older were significantly more likely to have suffered a stroke (13.0 percent), than women aged 65–74 or 45–64 years of age (5.8 and 2.6 percent, respectively).

There is evidence that women diagnosed with acute myocardial infarction (AMI), or heart attack, are less likely than men with AMI to receive certain treatments that have been reported to improve outcomes.2 Research also suggests that physicians are less likely to counsel women about modifiable risk factors, such as diet and exercise, and that after a first heart attack, women are less likely than men to receive cardiac rehabilitation, though the reasons for these sex disparities are unclear.3

1 American Heart Association. Heart attack, stroke, and cardiac arrest warning signs. http://heart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=3053, accessed 2/16/09.
2 Foster D, Young J, Foster D, Heller S. Effect of gender on treatment of acute myocardial infarction. Abstr Academy- Health Meet. 2004;21: abstract no. 1719.
3 Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. 2007 National Healthcare Disparities Report. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, AHRQ; Feb 2008. AHRQ Pub. No. 08-0041.

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