The Challenges of Heart Disease in Elderly Women

 More heart disease is present in elderly women than in elderly men and is the leading cause of death in women, accounting for more deaths yearly than all other causes combined. 

In fact, it is more prevalent in men under the age of 40 years compared with women, in those aged 40–60 years the prevalence is equal, and in elderly women (>60 years) the prevalence of is even greater than in men.  The fact that more women die of cardiovascular disease (CVD) each year more than men is under-recognized by both patients and most physicians.  Being aware of these statistics and educating yourself about signs, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, will help narrow the gender gap.

Know the risk factors and actively manage them:

  • High blood pressure- know your blood pressure and talk with your doctor about it
  • Black women- be vigilant in managing controllable factors
  • High LDL cholesterol- check cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Smoking- Stop smoking
  • Excess weight and inactivity- Get at least 2 ½ hours of exercise/week
  • Unhealthy diet- Focus on healthy food choices
  • Stress, depression- Healthy ways of coping
  • Drinking too much alcohol- Limit to one drink a day
  • Diabetes- Testing and treatment (diet/medications if needed)
  • Early menopause (< age 40)- Be vigilant in managing controllable factors

The diagnosis of heart disease can be more challenging in women, especially when elderly, as symptoms may be absent or vague. Watch for symptoms such as:

  • Chest, upper abdomen, neck, jaw, throat, or back pain
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Tiredness that won’t go away or feels excessive
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweatiness
  • Sudden swelling in feet, ankles, legs, or abdomen. 

If you have these sudden symptoms, call 9-1-1.  Do not ignore them. Studies demonstrate that physicians continue to under-recognize CVD and heart attacks in women, perform less testing for CVD, and less aggressively manage CVD in women when it is identified. So be vigilant in prevention, watch out for signs and symptoms, and be your own advocate!