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. 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 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.ibid

In 2007, women were slightly less likely than men to have ever been told by a health professional that they have heart disease (10.7 versus 11.9 percent, respectively). Among women, non-Hispanic Asians and Hispanics were least likely to be diagnosed with heart disease (5.1 and 6.9 percent, respectively).

In 2006, there were nearly 2 million hospital discharges due to heart disease among women aged 18 years and older, resulting in a rate of 171.2 discharges per 10,000 women. Rates of hospital discharges due to heart disease increased with age: the rate among women aged 45–64 years was 125.4 per 10,000, compared to 874.4 per 10,000 women aged 75 years and older.

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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