Heart Health: Men Vs. Women

by Melissa Chichester

When it comes to heart health, you might wonder: does gender matter?

A woman’s heart looks exactly the same as a man’s – but there are a few differences. For starters, a woman’s heart is typically smaller. A woman’s heart also pumps faster than a man’s but pushes out less blood. A woman’s heart also has smaller chambers and finer veins. 

A heart attack happens when cholesterol builds up in the walls of arteries. Researchers now know that for men, cholesterol tends to build up in the largest arteries of the heart. For women, build-up typically occurs in the smallest blood vessels.

These differences do matter – especially since it is a long-standing myth that women don’t have to worry about heart health. 

The truth is heart health impacts both genders. Furthermore, heart disease remains a leading cause of death for both men AND women. So what should each gender know? 

Heart attack differences between men and women  

One of the most important things to know about heart health is that the signs of a heart attack are not the same for women as they are for men. 

Men may experience:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in chest, arm, neck, or jaw
  • Heartburn
  • Sweating

Women may experience:

  • Dizziness 
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Pain between shoulder blades
  • Shortness of breath without chest discomfort 
  • Nausea 
  • Cold sweats 
  • Pain in the upper abdomen

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “women can develop symptoms that are subtler and harder to detect” when it comes to heart attacks.

This is only one reason why it is so important to understand heart health differences between men and women. 

And if you think you are experiencing a heart attack, call 911 immediately.

>>How to Read Cholesterol and Heart Health Test Results

Heart disease risk factors for men and women

Many risk factors for heart disease for men and women are similar, including:

  • Genetic factors
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Nutrition
  • Physical activity
  • Certain medical conditions 

However, other gender-specific factors may come into play. For example, if a woman develops certain conditions during pregnancy, this may play a role or be connected to heart disease risk factors. Only a doctor will be able to determine if this is a concern or risk. 

How men and women can support heart health

Because heart health issues impact so many people, it’s important to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle early on. It isn’t only an issue for seniors or middle-aged people. Heart health problems can impact anyone. 

How to support your heart right now:

  • Quit smoking
  • Talk to your doctor about genetic risk factors 
  • Ask your doctor about tests you may need
  • Eat a diet low in sodium, trans fat, and saturated fat
  • Exercise at least 150 minutes per week 

If this seems overwhelming, don’t worry. Taking small steps toward better heart health can have a big impact on not only your heart but also your confidence and overall well-being. Making small changes over time is more effective than trying to do it all at once, feeling overwhelmed, and quitting. 

>>Housekeeping Your Heart Health

You can support your heart health daily through nutrition, exercise, and being proactive about your heart by working with a doctor. Knowing the heart health differences between men and women can also help support your needs and may even help when you need it most.