Women and Cardiovascular Disease
A Woman's Heart - Unique Features of Cardiovascular Disease in Women

Women and Cardiovascular Disease
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Learn more about cardiovascular disease in women

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number-one killer of women globally.1 Even though it is widely recognized that cardiovascular disease is the leading threat to women’s health, misconceptions still exist that cardiovascular disease is primarily a disease of middle-aged men. 

CVD can impact women and men of any age and any nationality. Unfortunately, many women do not consider themselves at risk for CVD. This misconception, along with the fact that risk factors and symptoms of acute events often differ between women and men, leads to an imbalance in the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes of cardiovascular disease in women.


What Is Cardiovascular Disease?
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a term that encompasses a constellation of disorders affecting the heart and circulatory system. These conditions include coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, peripheral arterial disease, rheumatic heart disease, congenital heart disease, and deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.


  • Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women in every major developed country and most emerging economies.2
  • Globally, over 7 million women die every year due to cardiovascular diseases.1
  • In the United States, cardiovascular disease causes nearly one death per minute—almost 420,000 female deaths per year.3
  • 52% of female deaths in Europe are from cardiovascular disease.4
  • In Latin America, cardiovascular disease-related deaths disproportionately affect women.5
  • Heart disease and stroke cause 43.9% of deaths in women in China.6


The Global Burden of Cardiovascular Disease in Women

  • Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for women worldwide.7
  • One-third of deaths in women are due to cardiovascular disease.7
  • Each year, 8.6 million women around the globe die from heart disease and stroke.8
  • Heart disease and stroke kill more women than all cancers, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and malaria combined.8


Gender Differences9
Women and men are not equal when it comes to heart disease. There are several unique differences in risk factors, signs and symptoms, and outcomes in women compared to men. 

Women generally develop cardiovascular disease later in life than men. However, for women who have a heart attack at a younger age, the mortality rate is much higher than for men of the same age. Coronary artery disease in women tends to affect the smaller blood vessels, producing less-severe symptoms. The plaque burden in women also tends to be lower than in men but differs in that it often builds up along the entire artery rather than within a concentrated area. This means that it is not uncommon for women to have chest pain without evident obstructive coronary artery disease. Women also suffer more physical limitations after an acute event, and young or middle-aged women show higher rates of adverse outcomes, complications, and disability after heart attack compared to men.

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1. Website [Internet]. [cited 2012 November 27] Available from: http://gamapserver.who.int/gho/interactive_charts/women_and_health/causes_death/ chart.html

2. Gholizadeh L, Davidson P. More similarities than differences: an international comparison of CVD mortality and risk factors in women. Health Care Women Int. 2008;29:3-22.

3. FACT SHEET: Cardiovascular Disease: Women’s No. 1 Health Threat. AHA/HPFS/1/2012; American Heart Association.

4. Nichols M, Townsend N, Scarborough P, Luengo-Fernandez R, Leal J, Gray A, Rayner M. European Cardiovascular Disease Statistics 2012. European Heart Network, Brussels, European Society of Cardiology, Sophia Antipolis.

5. Tejero, M.E. Cardiovascular disease in Latin American women. Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases. 2010;20:405-11.

6. World Heart Federation website [Internet]. [cited 2012 November 27] Available from: http://www.world-heart-federation.org/congress-and-events/world-congress-of-cardiology-scientific-sessions-2010/press/press-releases/detail/article/90-of-chinese women-are-unaware-that-heart-disease-and-stroke-are-their-number-one-killers/

7. World Health Organization website [Internet]. [cited 2013 April 14] Available from: http://www.who.int/gho/women_and_health/mortality/causes_death/

8. World Heart Federation website [Internet]. [cited 2013 April 14] Available from: http://www.world-heart-federation.org/fileadmin/user_upload/documents/Fact_sheets/2012/CVD_women.pdf

9. Website [Internet]. [cited 2013 April 15] Available from: http://www.cadiresearch.org/topic/women/women-and-cad